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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Family of father killed by unidentified gunmen waits beside his body for the arrival of police SOCO in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, August 24 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Manila Night Prowl #3: Dead dad, no motive

By Anjo Bagaoisan

A woman cries upon seeing her father shot by unidentified gunmen in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, August 24 (Shot by Melchor Platero, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Melchor Platero, ABS-CBN News)

Arnaldo Dela Cruz’s eldest daughter cursed and shrieked when she looked at the dead man lying on the road to her house and recognized him as her father.

She was on her way home at 4 a.m. and passed through the line of twine used to mark out the crime scene. With bystanders and media men watching, she wondered aloud who the body beside a fallen motorcycle was.

When she saw the face, she exclaimed: “P*******, si Tatay!”

Shaking and crying, she walked back, this time around the twine on her way to the other side. The rest of her family was already there. They already knew.

She appealed to the police officers: “Ba’t ayaw niyo itakbo sa ospital, kuya? (Why don’t you bring him to the hospital?)

No one replied.

Gloria Dela Cruz talks to her crying daughter outside police line where Gloria's husband lay shot by unidentified gunmen in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, August 24 (Shot by Melchor Platero, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Melchor Platero, ABS-CBN News)

Gloria, her mother, met her with an opened umbrella. It had begun to drizzle. Even she could not calm her.

The daughter told Gloria: “Ma-re-revive pa yan! Kaysa hayaan niyong nakahiga diyan! (He could be revived instead of letting him lie there)”

“Sino’ng bumaril diyan (Who killed him)?” she said after squatting on a garage ramp.

No one knew the answer.

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Manila Night Prowl #2: That escalated quickly

By Anjo Bagaoisan

Police look on at police line surrounding two dead motorcycle riders killed in encounter on Pasay City. August 12, 2016. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

A text message arrived past 1 a.m., August 12. We followed it to Don Carlos Village, a strikingly familiar area in Pasay City. Wasn’t someone killed there the week before? (Yes, there was.)

All we knew then was that two were dead. The rest we had to find out onsite or through the policemen there.

When media workers arrive on such a scene, the body is usually untouched and the story often complete–courtesy of the leader of the police operation.

If you’ve followed these stories for days on end since July, the narrative can become familiar. Drug buy-bust gone wrong. Or killed by unidentified gunmen. Or dead body left wrapped up with a note.

Then there are days when reporters still have to piece together what happened in bits and pieces as the details arrive. And unlike the usual stories, the plot suddenly twists and thickens in an hour or two.

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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)

Getting the Napoles money shot

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Police special forces, media people, and bystanders outside the Makati City Jail before the arrival of Janet Lim-Napoles. (Shot by Archie Torres, ABS-CBN News)

Bright lights outside the Makati City Jail. (Shot by Archie Torres, ABS-CBN News)

“Huwag na sanang madaling-araw!” reporter Raffy Santos said over his mic. “Pagkatapos ng live ko sa Bandila, tapos na rin duty ko.”

Raffy was preparing for his 9 p.m. live update for Studio 23’s Iba-Balita from the Makati City Jail. Our work day began too early and was not yet over. My ENG van crew and I were in for the overnight—a repeat of our storm vigils the week before.

I was telling Raffy via override that it would do us a world of good if our news subject arrived during the late-night newscast. That way everyone could catch some recharge time before the slew of morning show lives. Raffy hoped it would not breach the end of his shift.

“Huwag ka mag-alala,” I replied. “Sakto, habang nagli-live tayo darating yun.”

We were waiting for Janet Lim-Napoles, long-hunted suspect in a scam that funneled P10-billion from the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) of legislators.

The night before, she surrendered surreptitiously to Pres. Benigno Aquino III. Before the public learned about it, Aquino quickly escorted her to the national police headquarters in Camp Crame.

Now the court in charge of Napoles’s illegal detention case ordered her moved to the Makati City Jail. Her transfer could happen any time.

Mug shots of Janet Lim-Napoles (Courtesy: Philippine National Police)

Mug shots of Janet Lim-Napoles (Courtesy: Phil. Natl. Police)

We knew Napoles was in government custody through stills released to the press of her visit to Malacañan Palace and her mug shots. But we had yet to see her in person.

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