Manila Night Prowl #5: Behind a police station’s book shelf

The bookshelf covering the entrance to the so-called secret jail at the Manila Police Station 1 discovered by the Commission on Human Rights on April 27, 2017. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

P/Supt. Robert Domingo is no stranger to media workers packing the premises of Manila’s police station 1 in Raxabago Street, Tondo. He’s previously held press conferences at his office–especially to those of the night beat–baring his team’s latest bust or capture.

The group of reporters and shooters that swarmed his station at dusk of April 27 would have been no different.

This time, though, things were not going the station chief’s way.

“Huwag na tayo magpalusot, pare. Halata naman. Tahimik na lang sana tayo, nagka-ganito pa.”

Atty. Gilbert Boiser, the white-haired, bespectacled director of the Commission on Human Rights’ investigations office was chiding Domingo. While both were nearly the same height, Boiser chose to sit. They were holed up near the door at a corner of the drug enforcement unit’s office at the back of the station. There was hardly room to move.

Their point of contention was at the opposite corner of that office, between them and a mass of people way more than the office can comfortably hold, and hidden behind a wooden bookshelf.

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When Filipinos last saw Pope John Paul II

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Pope John Paul II waves a final goodbye to Filipinos in Manila during his 1995 visit before boarding his plane. (Screengrab courtesy of ABS-CBN / TV Patrol)

Pope John Paul II waves a final goodbye to Manila during his 1995 visit. (Screen grab courtesy of ABS-CBN / TV Patrol)

Rare are the saints of the Catholic church who have been seen, encountered, or heard by so many people. And on April 27, Pope Francis canonized the man who could be the most-met saint yet.

Filipino Catholics count two countrymen among the church’s thousands of saints. But many of them will probably relate more to St. John Paul II, who led the church for more than half a century, visiting almost every country and being exposed to the most media coverage.

It is the former pope’s two visits to Manila that stand out in Filipinos’ memories. He first came here in 1981–three years after becoming pope–during the waning days of strongman Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. Pope John Paul II’s trip was soon followed by Marcos’s purported lifting of martial law.

The 10th World Youth Day in January 1995 became the pontiff’s last trip to the Philippines and his most remembered.

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A rainy week of ‘diverts’

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Rosario, Cavite - ABS-CBN's ENG 2 wades through the floods (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Rosario, Cavite – ABS-CBN’s ENG 2 wades through the floods (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The requirements start early in the morning and end near midnight. Two to three hours of sleep—in a bed if you’re lucky—and it’s back to the setup for another cycle of live shots upon live shots. All the while you’re stuck in the middle of rising and pouring water. There is little leeway to move around and take a break. And every so often, a call comes instructing you and your team to move to another location.

There is hardly time to digest the extent of the calamities in each stop. All you can do is take the requirements as they come, knowing that airing them can pave the way for responses and solutions.

The week was supposed to begin with follow-ups to two big news coverages. First was the pork barrel funds scandal and the yet-unfruitful hunt for its suspected culprit, Janet Lim-Napoles. The second was miles south in Cebu, where rescue teams scoured for passengers cast to sea by a collision of ships.

An unrelenting torrent of rains the weekend before that changed the tone of the entire week.

Las Piñas City - The stretch of the Alabang-Zapote road leading to Coastal is waist-deep in habagat floods. Cars are submerged. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Las Piñas City – The stretch of the Alabang-Zapote road leading to Coastal waist-deep in floods. Cars were left stranded. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Our news field operations team had been keeping vigil at the offices of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) the week before in case Napoles & Co. were caught. In Cebu, a satellite team prepared to air TV Patrol’s live reports of the sea tragedy with anchor Noli De Castro and newsgathering crews from ABS-CBN Manila and Cebu.

That and a few live features for morning show Umagang Kayganda (UKG) made up our initial location assignments for Monday, August 19.

But as the day progressed, waters rose throughout Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces. Classes were already suspended the night before. Residents in the worst-hit scrambled to the roofs of their homes. Others trickled to evacuation centers. Cars were stranded in submerged expressways.

EDSA -- Francis Faulve and crew drive through the floods (Shot c/o Francis Faulve)

EDSA — Francis Faulve and crew drive through the floods (Shot c/o Francis Faulve)

Typhoon Maring lounged way up north but was too far to directly cause havoc. It became clear that the growing story was the comeback of the southwest monsoon that inundated Luzon last year. Now, Maring had made Habagat stronger.

ENG vans on standby at the DOJ and NBI were moved to flooded spots in Laguna and Bataan. A team that aired a feature for UKG in Quezon City was supposed to transfer to the Maritime Industry Authority office for updates on the Cebu collision. Instead it proceeded southward to Kawit, Cavite, where the strong currents already reached chests.

Kawit, Cavite - Chest deep floods passable by boat (Shot by William Natividad, ABS-CBN News)

Kawit, Cavite – Chest deep floods passable by boat as seen in Atom Araullo’s TVP report. Click to watch. (Shot by William Natividad, ABS-CBN News)

A team from TV Patrol’s production staff followed there. Already less some of its staff due to Noli De Castro’s anchoring duties in Cebu, TV Patrol dispatched another team bringing audio, lights, and a teleprompter. From Cavite, Korina Sanchez would lead-in the newscast’s live and taped reports on the Habagat.

The floods slowly receded that Monday night, but the rains repeatedly turned on and off. By then, the news desk in Quezon City decided to fix the deployed teams for the night in their locations. Hardly any of the crews would be relieved.

They were advised to look for lodging. Some however, like those in Dinalupihan, Bataan, could find none that was open. Getting food was another thing—many ended up eating takeout.

Kawit, Cavite - A makeshift  breakfast area for the ENG team amid the floods. The meal--rice and sardines. (Shot c/o Chito Concepcion)

Kawit, Cavite – A makeshift breakfast area for the ENG team amid the floods. The meal: rice and sardines, all donated. (Shot c/o Chito Concepcion)

At 3 a.m. Tuesday, our team staying at a hotel in Biñan, Laguna was told to move to Noveleta, Cavite. The flooded town could finally be reached by vehicles, and the news crew that got there first found strewn garbage and mud all over.

‘Diverts’, as we called them, were the order of the next few days. One team started the day with a live feature in the FPJ Studios for Fernando Poe Jr.’s birthday. By lunchtime they were airing shots of a flooded Araneta Avenue. But for TV Patrol, they moved to the Marikina River banks for Niña Corpuz’s live report on the river level.

Noveleta, Cavite--An SUV parked by the subsided floods. Garbage surrounds it. (Shot by Filemon Rocamora)

Noveleta, Cavite–An SUV parked by the subsided floods. Garbage surrounds it. (Shot by Filemon Rocamora)

The Noveleta team found themselves rushing back to San Pedro, Laguna to air President Benigno Aquino III’s quick visit to an evacuation center there. The next day, they returned to Cavite for another P-Noy stop.

TV Patrol continued its remote anchoring. Korina Sanchez and team next visited Bataan. And after two more days in Cebu, Noli De Castro waded the floods of Pampanga and Bulacan.

Malolos, Bulacan--Noli De Castro anchors TV Patrol from MacArthur Highway. Click to watch his report. (Shot c/o Bert Apostol)

Malolos, Bulacan–Noli De Castro anchors TV Patrol from MacArthur Highway. Click to watch his report. (Shot c/o Bert Apostol)

The key to a live anchoring or reporter standup in the floods is finding a dry, elevated spot for the ENG van or satellite truck safely nearby. Once the crucial electronics are secured, the camera and the anchor can approach the water.

As the week drew to a close, the videos of destruction gradually gave way to residents huddling in evacuation centers and others trying to return home. A cameraman transmitting by broadband was sent to Manila to cover the siphoning of water from the submerged Lagusnilad underpass.

Sto. Tomas, Pampanga-- Karen Davila and ABS-CBN Pampanga's Jayvie Dizon report live. (Shot by Irish Vidal)

Sto. Tomas, Pampanga– Karen Davila and ABS-CBN Pampanga’s Jayvie Dizon report live. Click to watch the video. (Shot by Irish Vidal)

The stories moved on to aid and the lighter side Filipinos mustered up amidst the calamity. An ENG van was diverted to Sagip Kapamilya’s warehouse in Examiner Street in Quezon City to cover the influx and packing of relief goods.

One by one, the ENG teams were allowed to return to base. It was a relief for one team that had been braving winds in Aurora Province from an earlier typhoon since August 12.

By Saturday, only one remained—the team in Bulacan which was put on standby in Malolos for the weekend, in case the approaching Low Pressure Area turned rogue.

At least, at last, sunshine took the place of rain.

Marikina--Sagip Kapamilya's relief operations in H. Bautista Elementary School (Shot c/o Irish Vidal)

Balagtas, Bulacan - Evacuees on their fifth day unable to return home. (Shot by Gani Taoatao)Top: Marikina–Sagip Kapamilya’s relief operations in H. Bautista Elementary School (Shot c/o Irish Vidal); Bottom: Balagtas, Bulacan – Evacuees on their fifth day unable to return home. Click to watch Jorge Carino’s TVP story. (Shot by Gani Taoatao)

Ra(n)ge of reactions at the Coastal Terminal

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

The Southwest Integrated Bus Terminal in Coastal Mall, Paranaque (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

We showed peeks of it on live TV. We heard officials hint and warn of the changes it would make. But only when the Southwest Integrated Bus Terminal opened at the Coastal Mall in Parañaque did we see its full impact.

The people behind it saw it as another step in solving the metro’s traffic problem so prominently mentioned in the President’s 2013 State of the Nation Address.

For a number of the commuters it affected, it was nothing but another strike in a series of poorly-thought-of and inconsiderate policies that gave more problems than they solved.

On August 6, bus-riders from Cavite and Batangas were surprised to find that their trips to Manila and EDSA now ended at Parañaque. They knew about the week-long ruckus in Manila when City Hall blocked buses from entering the city. But hadn’t some buses been allowed back in so long as they had terminals there?

A woman who boarded a bus in Cavite was told by the conductor that they were now only going so far. She loudly began decrying Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, little knowing that the man behind this new move was also aboard that bus. Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chair Francis Tolentino simply smiled as the reporters traveling along turned to see his reaction.

Commuters occupy Roxas Boulevard during first days of the Southwest bus terminal. (Shot by Nestor Prillo, ABS-CBN News)

Morning rush at Roxas Blvd. (Shot by Nestor Prillo, ABS-CBN News)

The MMDA had long been planning to cut off buses going into Metro Manila from the surrounding provinces, and the Southwest Terminal was its corner for southern buses.

But for the terminal’s first three days, the morning rush saw a mass of ride-less travelers occupy the northbound side of Roxas Boulevard and joust for trips. The connecting rides to the metro they expected were either missing or sparse.

When reporter Pia Gutierrez asked them, their reactions were heated and impatient. Their rides were stunted, their pocket money drained, their appointments delayed.

“Sana matupad ang gusto nila, pero sa amin pahirap ito,” one said.

‘Pahirap’

“Pahirap” was the recurring retort of exasperated interviewees trudging the overpass between Coastal Mall to Roxas Boulevard —from an elderly man hauling a sack of belongings to a diminutive woman with a limp forced to join the procession up and down the stairs.

Commuters react to the implementation of the Southwest Integrated bus terminal (Shots by Nestor Prillo & Evart Villar, ABS-CBN News)

Watch some commuter’s reactions in Pia’s TV Patrol story. (Shots by Nestor Prillo & Evart Villar, ABS-CBN News)

Good thing the weather was dry, some said. Didn’t anyone anticipate what would happen to them during typhoon season?

One man lost his wallet in the tussle for rides and kept repeating to Pia iterations of “Manila’s not safe anymore.”

Even passers-by could not hold off shouting angry asides. Others just saw our camera and volunteered their condemnation.

One interviewee was drenched in sweat after lugging two boxes to the terminal with no idea where to ride next. A bus worker beside him irately urged: “Pare, sabihin mo mas maganda yung sistema dati.”

A sign board at the Southwest Integrated Bus Terminal showing directions to its facilities (Shot by Evart Villar, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Evart Villar, ABS-CBN News)

Clearly, the terminal was still in beta phase. A signboard advertised a food court yet to be built. There was already a prayer room and a waiting area that boasted digital monitors of the buses coming in and out. Many commuters, however, told us there must be a better option than this.

On the first night, commuters trying to go home scrambled to cram into the buses. With the heat, smoke, and rising tempers, some fainted. No one paid heed to MMDA personnel striving to put order to the lines. Later, marshals and cordons were put in.

What would you expect when you put 1000 buses in one place, Tolentino asked reporters. He admitted that they were still ironing out the snags, among them the long turnover of buses.

Commuters going home jostle in an attempt to board a bus at the Southwest Integrated Bus Terminal on its first night of operation. (Shot by Evart Villar, ABS-CBN News)

Click to watch Jasmin Romero’s report on the first night of the terminal. (Shot by Evart Villar, ABS-CBN News)

For three days, Tolentino faced commuters who vented out their frustrations on him. The signboards were wrong. They were being dropped too far. Some rides refused to take them.

They also raised suggestions. Maybe senior citizens and disabled persons can have their own lounge. The terminal could use more ventilation. And bigger rest rooms.

The chairman did not escape that even during interviews with the media. But he welcomed it. When 15 people held a protest there, he said he even wanted to meet and thank them.

MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino talks with a commuter about the Southwest Integrated Bus Terminal (Shot by Evart Villar, ABS-CBN News)

As buses go out, Tolentino hears out a commuter. (Shot by Evart Villar, ABS-CBN News)

Tolentino, a former mayor of Tagaytay, told reporters he himself rode buses from Cavite before.

But he insisted he was on the right track. “Basta ginawa mo yung tama, kailangan talaga panindigan mo rin.”

To a commuter, he said: “Kung mali ako, hindi ako haharap sa inyo.”

Lacking concern

A man who only introduced himself as Jun walked around the terminal one night looking for Tolentino. He said he was a businessman who returned to the Philippines after 13 years managing workers in Japan.

Jun did not commute to Cavite, but he visited the terminal right after seeing the situation on TV.

“Kung Hapon ang gumawa nito at ganito ang nangyari, nagpakamatay na siguro siya,” Jun said.

For him, it seemed the problem was that policymakers lacked concern or even love for the citizen’s welfare. Thus it was easy for them to implement guidelines without thinking about its consequences for the ordinary person.

Long lines and packed entrances to the buses at the Southwest Integrated Bus Terminal. (Shots by Evart Villar, ABS-CBN News)

(Shots by Evart Villar, ABS-CBN News)

Jun had his own ideas to offer to the MMDA chairman. One was letting one bus company run rides for a week. There was no indication though that the two men met.

Indeed, transportation is one issue aside from commodity prices that makes Filipinos opinionated about how their government is working.

If the loud cacophony of criticism at the terminal was not enough, there were others elsewhere. That week, a petition demanding that officials ride public transportation at least once a week made the rounds online.

Commuters climb the overpass from Coastal Mall to Roxas Boulevard looking for connecting trips to Manila. (Shot by Nestor Prillo, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Nestor Prillo, ABS-CBN News)

To one opinion writer, government may be focusing too much on fixing traffic rather than improving public transit. That’s considering 80 percent of Filipinos in the metro commute rather than drive privately.

At least the responses were not all flak. Chairman Tolentino was also approached by people happy about the reduced congestion. One gave him a thumbs up. “Sa una talaga may problema,” said another.

How did Tolentino feel getting these little boosts? “Lumalakas ang loob ko,” he said. His assurance, after all, is: “Masasanay din sila.”

But if the long lines there at the end of that first week are any indication, it will take more tweaks and renovations before metro commuters get used to a change in their trip routines—all in the name of discipline.

Provincial commuters are now dropped off a walk's distance from the City Bus Terminal. (Shot by Nestor Prillo, ABS-CBN News)

Provincial commuters are now dropped off a walk’s distance from the City Bus Terminal. (Shot by Nestor Prillo, ABS-CBN News)

Snaps: Awaiting the 2014 UPCAT takers

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Waiting for UPCAT 2013 takers at UP Manila, Pedro Gil

(Shot by Nico Bagaoisan)

A throng guarded the gate of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine along Manila’s Pedro Gil Street last Sunday afternoon, August 4.

Many of them had been standing there for hours. Some took a break at the neighboring Robinsons Mall and had returned, only to learn they had to wait a few hours more.

Others eschewed the crowd and looked on from St. Paul University across the street. At times, the glass door of the school’s auditorium opened, letting out a blast of cool air.

Two women passed by. The older one asked aloud, “Ano’ng meron? May artista ba?”

There were no celebrities, she was told. Exam lang po para sa UP.”

The bystanders were parents and siblings, friends and companions of senior high school students attempting to get into the country’s national state university.

Passing the UP College Admission Test or UPCAT was their way in, and 83,000 were taking it this year–its biggest number of examinees yet.

Sunday was the second and final day of the exam. The turnout was far from the long lines outside Palma Hall in the UP Diliman campus on Saturday, but it was as tense and suspenseful for the hundreds scheduled this day.

Test-takers were assured that the exam for academic year 2014-2015 would extend just below the four hours and twenty minutes of last year. And it would discard the wildcard essay question that surprised takers then.

The exam at UP Manila started at 12:30 noon. By 3:30, the guards at the gate were saying the examinees would be done by 5.

But the crowd did not see their loved ones come out of the Felipe Calderon Hall until 30 minutes after. The students later said they were lined up before they were allowed to leave.

There were hardly cheers or applause like for those departing from the bar or board exams. Mostly there were silent sighs of relief. Others who took the test with school mates were chatting excitedly with them, releasing pent-up sentiments after hours of near-silence.

Awaiting UPCAT takers 2014 in UP Manila closeup

(Shot by Nico Bagaoisan)

The students were met with questions as they walked away: how was the test, did you answer it all, but more so, were you hungry?

A mother asked her daughter: “Hindi ba pwede kumain habang nag-e-exam?” “Pwede po.” But it turned out only a few got to sneak bites from their packed snacks.

Soon, some took to skewering eggs fried in batter or “kwek-kwek” at a mobile food stand near the gate. Others trooped to a fast food outlet close by.

Another girl told her mom: “Naka-three-fourths pa lang ako ng test, ten minutes na lang natira.”

A motherly figure was reassuring her two wards—a boy and a girl: “Buti na-review niyo lahat.”

One taker was telling his companions, “Hindi ako maka-move on. But it was less about the exam than about someone he met before taking it.

He had taken some time inside the campus before leaving the gate, hoping he could catch the fellow-examinee again. Maybe he could put a name to the face and a number or social media account to the face. And maybe they might meet again should they both pass.

But like the test results which are five to six months away, his meeting the mystery girl was still uncertain.

Only about 14,000 (or less) are expected to be admitted to the university next year. Even then, their experiences taking the UPCAT are but the start of many others they will encounter as Iskolars ng Bayan.

A search ends, a search continues

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Wide shot of port in Aroroy, Masbate as storm clouds gather (Shot on June 18, 2013 by Doni Bolante)

Gathering storm clouds at Aroroy Port (Shot by Doni Bolante)

AROROY, MASBATE–The port area has been quiet this week. It used to welcome daily busloads of passengers plus tons of goods brought in by ten-wheelers transported through Roll On-Roll Off (RoRo) ships. Now, the few vessels there are bancas and a large cargo ship on a weeklong stop to sell cement to local hardware stores and construction work.

Recent days were sunny, with the occasional downpour. When the afternoons are dry, the pier becomes a vast park of young people. Some still in uniforms hang out with school mates. Preteen boys wearing shorts and bare feet dive into the bay or kick around a football.

It was unlike our first few days. Jorge Cariño’s morning live reports were beset by a combination of heavy rain and strong winds that sometimes knocked over the umbrella covering our setup or had us securing our equipment from water.

ABS-CBN live set up braving the rains at Aroroy, Masbate (Shot June 18, 2013 by Doni Bolante)

Our makeshift ‘ulan’ set up (Shot by Doni Bolante)

The slow-shrinking puddles near our satellite truck only remain of that ordeal. Our truck was left staying overnight at the port after the field crews of GMA 7 and TV5 returned to Manila.

The problematic weather also set back the Coast Guard’s search and rescue efforts for the seven still-missing passengers of the M/V Lady of Carmel which sank on its way here.

The ferry sank too deep (1,314 feet, say authorities) even for divers to check out. In comparison, the body of interior Sec. Jesse Robredo was recoveredfrom a downed plane nearly 200 feet underwater off Masbate City.

The most progress searchers made since recovering the two declared casualties of the M/V Carmel was to find planks, head rests, and packed food floating around the sinking site two days later.

The following day, the Coast Guard presumed the chances of finding the seven people alive too slim and switched the operation from rescue to retrieval. And with the monsoon rains, they were resigned to wait for reports of bodies that might wash up in the coasts.

Coast Guard search and rescue efforts bring back wooden planks, a head rest, and food items from the sunk M/V Lady of Carmel (Shot on June 16, 2013 by Val Cuenca, ABS-CBN News)

(Shots by Val Cuenca, ABS-CBN News)

It has not given rest, however, to the missing passengers’ families our news teams talked to across Masbate.

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Erap’s big move

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Change of address. More fun in the Philippines. In picture: Joseph Estrada driving his Jeep ni erap

(Shot by Gani Taoatao, ABS-CBN News; c/o morefunmaker.com)

Manga Avenue rarely sees the bustle of the nearby residential areas in Santa Mesa, Manila.

While the buildings along this street are bounded by big gates and high walls, it isn’t part of any subdivision. There are few stores close by, and the traffic it usually gets comes from passing tricycles.

The quiet at Manga Ave. may soon change with the transfer of its newest and likely most illustrious resident.

If the house-move last May 9 gave any hint, hubbub won’t be stranger to this place in the next year. Former President Joseph Estrada has brought the noise of Philippine politics to his new territory.

As early as 4 a.m., the one-lane street was already choked outside the gate marked Number 589. News vans parked a pace away were culprits. Their portable generators injected a steady hum to the silence, as TV crews prepped for advancer live shots in the morning shows.

By mid-morning, around a hundred people in white, orange, and green shirts had gathered, holding up the traffic.

The prints on the shirts gave their aim: “Welcome to Manila Mayor Erap”. Others read “Manila ♥ Erap,” “Erap ♥ Manila.”

By then, Erap had left his Polk Street house in Greenhills and was driving to Santa Mesa in his pimped out “Jeep ni Erap.”

Impending showdown

This day would answer if Estrada would follow through on his next reported conquest—this time for the top seat of the City of Manila.

Riding beside him was Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, who with other members of the city council had transferred allegiance to Estrada from his former ally, incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim.

Estrada had hinted recently of challenging Lim in the 2013 midterm elections. The only deterrent to his qualification for running was his registered address, famously in San Juan.

The transfer convoy, which included three trucks laden with wood cabinets and hard-plastic containers, all timed to the year before the polls.

Erap poster and brass band outside Estrada house in Santa Mesa Manila May 9, 2012 (Shots Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shots by Anjo Bagaoisan)

At Manga Avenue, a brass band, complete with dancing girls, had marched in to perk up the welcoming throng. Ice cream and corn vendors had also stopped by.

Placards were passed around. Their messages ranged from the familiar slogans–“Erap para sa mahirap”–to the shout-outs–“Bawal ang Dirty sa Maynila”. “Dirty” an aside against Mayor Lim, nicknamed “Dirty Harry” for his hard-line stance against crime in the 1990s.

Erap had his own action star moniker: Asiong Salonga, after the mid-20th century local gang leader he portrayed on the silver screen.

The impending showdown in Manila has now been lent ready references to action movies.

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