Manila Night Prowl: Shadowing the ‘ronda’

By Anjo Bagaoisan

ABS-CBN crew cab facing Sunrise over Commonwealth Avenue. (Shot by Mike Navallo)

(Shot by Mike Navallo)

The shift starts at 9 p.m. On paper, it ends at 5 a.m. but actually does when the story does. Usually, it’s way beyond 5. 

This is the graveyard shift. It’s more popularly the domain of security guards, call center agents, and resident doctors. In news, it’s the lull between the often more significant events of one day and the next. Here, crime and vehicular accidents take center stage and make the headlines.

In ABS-CBN, we call it the ronda, a.k.a. “Ronda Patrol” to audiences of our primetime newscast. Because in between the adrenaline of shootouts and crashes, the shift is largely time spent staying awake and driving around the metro, looking for something to report.

And where ghosts figuratively tread, so do shadows. It’s as one where my breaking in as a reporter begins.

(Warning: Some pictures here are graphic.)

Police looks at dead tricycle driver shot by unknown killers in Caloocan City, August 22. Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan.

Tricycle driver killed by a group of unidentified men in a convoy of motorcycles. Caloocan City, August 22. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Almost all Philippine reporters, especially on television, cut their teeth in the graveyard. The ronda is a rite of passage that only ends when you’re deemed to have proved yourself, when a new reporter comes in, or when another in the day shift leaves. For some, the period takes years. For the lucky few, a few months to a year.

The ronda is often the source for part of the news content in the mainstream morning shows. It also provides attention-getters during the so-called tabloid newscasts. Some agenda-setting events also strike during the overnight. On lean days, though, there are hardly crimes to report.

Child looks at body of suspected drug pusher killed in police buy-bust op. Binangonan, Rizal. August 3, 2016. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Construction worker killed in police buy-bust. Binangonan, Rizal, August 3. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

But never has there been a more crucial and interesting time to be a graveyard reporter than now. 

I shifted career gears at the beginning of the Duterte administration. Where our predecessors largely dealt with vehicular accidents, my batch is contending with a nightly reality of deaths—either through police anti-drug operations gone sour or by unidentified killers.

Photographers take pictures of drug suspect killed in police shootout. Tondo, Manila. August 8, 2016. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

A tip to police leads to alleged shootout. Tondo, Manila, August 8. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

* * *

I didn’t see one on my first night though. 

I piggybacked with reporter Kevin Manalo, who I was assigned to for my entry week beginning August 1. He had just turned a year old as a reporter and had just also been bequeathed a major beat or area of coverage.

New reporters aren’t usually sent to the field on their own at once. Shadowing allows them to get a feel of their new environment and the people they would meet. It also lets them get to know how things work and see a fellow reporter in action.

CCTV video of reporter Kevin Manalo interviewing in Caloocan City August 22, 2016 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Kevin Manalo caught interviewing on CCTV. Caloocan City, August 22. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

In police beats like the QCPD, reporters often tip off each other when they get wind of breaking news. With today’s technology, a chat group allows them to do that quickly.

At late night on a Sunday, there wasn’t much happening. Until the reporters learned of a VA, a vehicular accident, past 12:30 a.m.

Emergency rescuers lift man injured in motorcycle crash, Philcoa, Commonwealth, Quezon City, August 1, 2016 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Motorcycle crash. Philcoa, Quezon City. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

We drove to Philcoa along Commonwealth Avenue and found an injured man stiffly lying on the pavement beside a closed truck. A downed motorcycle lay a few meters ahead.

Our team got off the cab. Kevin approached the pack of people circling the man and took pictures as emergency rescuers hauled him to a stretcher. He then joined other reporters talking to and then interviewing the injured man’s companion, the driver of the truck and his assistants, and the traffic investigator.

In 30 minutes, Kevin gathered a picture of how the incident (we refrain from calling them “accidents” in reports) occured.

Kevin Manalo interviewing truck driver involved in vehicular accident. Philcoa, Quezon City.

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

As a shadow I was also expected to gather the details, join in the interviews and write my own story. Another learning curve of the graveyard shift is the discipline of being accurate with facts and meeting deadlines.

By 3, Kevin voiced his approved report for our main show Umagang Kay Ganda. I was tapped to do phone reports for the Gising Pilipinas newscast on DZMM and for the 5 a.m. news roundup of UKG –a rare instance for a reporter just on his first day.

Only the next night did I see my first dead body since becoming a reporter—the result of a buy-bust operation in a quiet but allegedly drug-infested barangay in Bocaue, Bulacan.

Body of AWOL policeman suspected of dealing drugs and killed in a buy-bust lies below a house in Bulacan. August 2, 2016. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

AWOL police officer killed in buy-bust. Bocaue, Bulacan, August 2. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

* * *

Buy-busts-turned-alleged-shootouts were the nightly norm when I shadowed Kevin’s batch mate Miguel Dumaual the following week, this time in Manila. In his one year on the field, he was already shadowed by three newbies before me.

Reporter Miguel Dumaual in an interview with Manila Police station commander Ulsano. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Miguel among pack interviewing a Manila Police station commander. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The Manila PD press corps is a bigger than that in QC, with many print reporters and photographers adding to their broadcast counterparts. The number of those who stay the night at the MPD press corps lounge has also grown since the government escalated its war on drugs. Many of the ops tipped to the media are usually in the capital.

The tips are usually one-liners sent through text and then passed via chat: “DOS (for “dead on the spot”) street so-and-so”. Sometimes, a police officer calls the press corps lounge.

Press and onlookers at a bridge over shanties where a suspected pusher and shooting suspect was killed by police. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Press and onlookers at a bridge over shanties where a suspected pusher and shooting suspect was killed by police. Manila, August 8. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The pack rushes in convoy to the site, hoping to reach the body before the scene of the crime operatives or SOCO arrive and clean up the scene. 

Police are usually the first sources of details. Lower-ranked officers answer the initial questions, but it is the station or precinct commander who allows himself to be interviewed.

Funeral parlor workers carry out bodies of suspected drug users killed in police op from a house in Pasay City. August 9, 2016. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Police op kills 2 in run-down apartment. Pasay City, August 9. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The media usually waits until the crime scene is cleaned up before leaving. But on some days, another death turns up in another area of Manila in the middle of a coverage. Those who don’t have a tag team on hand have no choice but to leave.

Filing all of that information for the morning newscasts is all on the reporter. Miguel and his team once covered up to 10 deaths in separate locations in just one night. In the few hours before 4 a.m. he has to quickly process and write up to 2 reports per coverage.

3 deaths, one night. Top: 2 drug suspects killed in buy-bust in Sta. Cruz, Manila. August 10, 2016 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Bloodied body found in Baseco. August 10, 2016. (Shots By Anjo Bagaoisan)

3 deaths, one night. Top: 2 drug suspects killed in buy-bust in Sta. Cruz, Manila. Bottom: Bloodied body found in Baseco. August 10. (Shots By Anjo Bagaoisan)

Manning the beat can give a long-term view of seemingly isolated incidents. Like the night police in Tondo connected a buy-bust kill to the hunt for suspects in a shooting incident a week earlier. Miguel had covered the incident and later looked for the family of the victim to get their reaction on the death.

Of course, not all the stories in the graveyard are morbid. But there were hardly any of them during my introduction to the shift.

The ronda supposedly ends when the morning show ends at 8 a.m. There are days, though, when a call or message comes in with an additional assignment before then. 

The night prowl extends to day.

Night shot of Quezon Avenue. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Meet the Robredos

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Naga Students line up to see Jesse Robredo's casket (Shot August 23, 2012 by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

“Salamat, Jesse Robredo” coverage log 2

NAGA CITY, CAMARINES SUR– For a week, this city became, in the words of Sec. Manuel Quezon III, the capital of the country.

The top stories centered here, just after Manila and its neighbors closed their ordeal with the Habagat floods.

While the stories focused on the man, the late Sec. Jesse Robredo, the spotlight also turned to the city and to the lives most connected to him.

They long lived in Robredo’s shadow. But the secretary’s life and death bagged Naga and his family a greater appreciation from many who met them by this tragedy.

The casket was no longer opened. Still, hundreds continued to come.

The casket soon had to be moved from a cramped corner of the chapel of the Archbishop’s Palace to the wider covered driveway outside.

There and later at the Basilica Minore, many noticed how orderly the Nagueños lined up and occupied the place.

ABS-CBN reporter Jorge Cariño reports from near the casket of Jesse Robredo in Naga (Shot August 23, 2012 by Anjo Bagaoisan)

A couple visits the coffin of Jesse Robredo (Shot August 24, 2012 by Anjo Bagaoisan) (Shots by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Local businesses kept sending in food and drinks, to the point that organizers asked them to stop for the meantime.

Even for packed meals the locals quietly lined up for their share.

Reporters and anchors repeatedly hailed Naga’s rise from municipality to first-class city as a legacy of its former mayor.

More remarkable than that though is the discipline of the Nagueños formed not from fear or force, but from example.

Aika

Like his stint as mayor, Jesse Robredo worked below the radar as DILG secretary. He didn’t even bring his family to Manila.

Only during Robredo’s search and wake did the public and the media begin to get acquainted with his wife and three daughters.

Our news teams were assigned to get and prepare for a guest on the night Sec Jesse’s casket arrived at Naga.

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Sec. Jesse returns home

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

“Salamat, Jesse Robredo” coverage log

Media setups at the Robredo residence in Naga City Shot August 20, 2012 By Anjo Bagaoisan

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

NAGA CITY, CAMARINES SUR—“Are you sure this is it?”

The Manila-based media came looking for a mansion inside a gated subdivision. What they found was an apartment compound just a few turns from one of Naga City’s main roads.

A vacant lot of trees and untouched greenery fronted the compound. The neighbors were gated houses you would find in middle-class areas.

There was no tell-tale marker. No posters, and aside from a Couples For Christ tile, no name-plates.

Beyond the police checkpoints (likely put up during the previous nights) and waiting tents nearby, no one would think it the residence of a VIP.

The attention around it still made clear this was indeed where Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, pride of Naga, lived.

A three-floor brick-and-granite building dominated the compound—the Robredos’ unit.

Police guards entance to Robredo apartment in Naga Shot August 21, 2012 By Anjo Bagaoisan

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Outside its door, bars enclosed a small receiving area where pictures of Sec. Jess hung. Here and there getting awards from four Philippine presidents, one a blessing from Pope John Paul II, and the biggest, a group pose with President Benigno Aquino.

Five adjacent flats faced the building–houses the family was renting out.

Our news team arrived there two days after Robredo’s plane crashed off the coast of Masbate City.

We were to keep tabs on the secretary’s family and the supporters that poured in as they waited for news.

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Dolphy and ACJ: End of two eras

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Dolphy in Home Along Da Riles and Angelo Castro, Jr. in The World Tonight (Courtesy: ABS-CBN)

Rodolfo “Dolphy” Quizon and Angelo Castro, Jr. (Courtesy: ABS-CBN)

From Makati Med to Heritage Park, they did not end. The ordinary and the famed both came to pay their respects to this great. And when time or distance prevented, Filipinos tipped their hats to Dolphy all the way to cyberspace.

The King of Comedy’s final days saw a nostalgia trip in pop culture as his past performances made a comeback on TV.

With that, the tributes on Twitter and Facebook recalled Dolphy’s unforgettable characters and their impact on generations of viewers.

Similar sentiments echoed as our reporters took the pulse of those who showed up at the hospital and the memorial park.

It was no different back in April when another TV luminary, anchorman Angelo Castro, Jr. passed away.

The physical line was shorter, the media noise less, but the collective recollection streamed nonetheless—especially online.

Viewers old enough to remember revisited the days when newscasts in English were still the norm for late-night.

Sam Concepcion singing at tribute service for Dolphy at ABS-CBN's Dolphy Theater, July 12, 2012 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Salamat, Tito Dolphy at ABS-CBN’s Dolphy Theater (Videos upon clicking – Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

In Dolphy’s wake, Filipinos resurrected John Puruntong and Pacifica Falayfay.

The deaths of famous people conjure up not just personal memories of them, but also the zeitgeist (the spirit of the times) during their heyday in the public eye.

And now in this age of the digital village, we have realized all the more a shared loss of one less character who embodied our hopes and experiences.

With the loss of figures like Dolphy and Angelo Castro, we are also nudged to look back to their times and reflect how things have differed since.

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The night Dolphy died

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Sol Aragones breaking news of Dolphy's death on ABS-CBN News Patrol, July 10, 2012 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Sol Aragones breaking Dolphy’s death on ABS-CBN News Patrol. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

I will remember where I was when I learned we lost Dolphy.

The big story that day was the extreme traffic wrought by keeping the Metro Manila buses along one lane of EDSA. Our van was at a concrete island on the turn to Quezon Avenue from EDSA.

After we aired a live report for TV Patrol, the news desk told us to stay put while deciding if we would do another for the 11 p.m. newscast.

It was nearly 9 and raining. A crew mate and I were already settling down from dinner, shut in our crew cab.

The desk editor on duty called. “Who’s on standby at Makati Med?”

I gave the name. “Okay. You get ready too,” he said, and hanged up. I called our guy at Makati Medical Center.

“Nag-tweet na si Ruffa,” he said. “Nag-aabangan na dito.”

We read Ruffa Gutierrez’s post via a workmate’s Blackberry: “R.I.P Ninong Dolphy.”

The Net was already abuzz, but no one was yet confirming it.

Commentators on DZMM radio were still bantering about the traffic, cryptically telling listeners who texted queries, “Please wait. We still don’t know.”

TV monitors at the ABS-CBN Newsroom showing GMA and TV5 coverage of Dolphy's death, July 10, 2012  (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

ABS-CBN Newsroom monitoring breaking news on Dolphy's death, July 10, 2012 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan) At the ABS-CBN newsroom: Monitoring TV channels covering Dolphy. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

By then, we were told to pack up, pick up some hardware at the base, and proceed to Makati Med. Another crew watching traffic elsewhere in EDSA was diverted there too.

The TV news break greeted us when we got to ABS-CBN. Dolphy’s partner, Zsa Zsa Padilla, confirmed that Dolphy had indeed passed away.

And just like that, our headlines quickly shifted gears from commuting to the loss of a showbiz great.

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Chasing Fallen Stars: How television news covers the death of celebrities

(NOTE: I wrote this with two Journalism classmates as our final case study in Journalism Ethics [ J 192] class under Prof. Yvonne T. Chua in March 2009.

Celebrity news, largely a mix of glamour, PR, and scandal, is rarely looked at as an area for responsible reporting. But it is a staple in Philippine media relegated to the end segment of newscasts or the E-section of papers.

But what happens when showbiz lands the top story? We looked at how TV news covered the deaths of celebrities, the coverage of which is as sensitive as covering deaths in the general public.

Two happened twice before this final paper was assigned, which we compared to a highly-remembered one which occurred a decade ago from today’s writing.

DISCLOSURE: I am now an employee of ABS-CBN News. Roehl, one of my co-writers, works for GMA News.)

———————————

CHASING FALLEN STARS

How television news covers the death of celebrities

By Andrew Jonathan Bagaoisan, Roehl Niño Bautista and Annamaebelle Bernal

(First of two parts)

Screenshot of Rico Yan memorial service in 2003 (c/o ABS-CBN)

Grab from Yan’s memorial service aired live on ABS-CBN.

It was a non-stop six-hour affair made for television. At the funeral mass for matinee idol Rico Yan, singer-performer Gary Valenciano moved people to tears rendering “Warrior is a child,” the actor’s favorite song.

Priest Tito Caluag, in his homily, told mourners how Yan dreamed of becoming president. “Rico wanted to be a leader but never mentioned leadership because he only wanted to serve,” said Caluag.

For the climax of a week-long drama captured by television, the service was just the beginning.

From the thousands who held vigil at the wake, thousands of others went outside their homes and waited at the roadside where the convoy en-route to the young actor’s final resting place was about to pass, just to see the car that carried the famous lad’s mortal shell. People cried for the loss of an idol, a friend, a family member, and these with all other drama were shown on national television.

News personalities of ABS-CBN, Yan’s home network, stationed at key areas of the convoy to report live every stage of the procession on ground while the station’s “Sky Patrol” helicopter followed the whole procession from La Salle Green Hills to Manila Memorial Park on camera. It definitely wasn’t ordinary for a burial coverage to last that long.

But Yan’s death in March 2002 was not the only newsworthy event as television news made it to be with its “unprecedented” and “overwhelming” coverage, as a newspaper put it.

Attention to Yan’s demise pushed to the side stories like the Baseco Compound fire which displaced around 3,000 families, a dry-dock accident in Dubai that left eight Filipinos dead and eight more missing, and the deaths of National Artists for Music Levi Celerio and Lucio San Pedro, and Britain’s Queen Mother.

Celebrities make the news. Deaths also make the news. Put those two together and the media is put in a tight spot when it comes to ethics. If covering famous personalities is already problematic, covering celebrities who died is even trickier, when the newsworthy elements of the two combine but their at-times incompatible values clash.

In a country where showbiz news is a daily television staple presented under the guise of journalism, the nuances of covering celebrity deaths are largely unexplored in depth or remiss in guidelines.

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