Finally, Garci’s ‘Hello’

(Shot by Marco Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News)

BAUNGON, BUKIDNON–Ryan Chua and I were just out of high school when we first heard “Hello Garci.”

It was a looming question to the legitimacy of then Pres. Gloria Arroyo’s 2004 win, and we saw journalists take pains to get it out and officials take pains to discredit it.

We now remember just the soundbites: the greeting turned into a myriad ringtones and the line “Will I still lead by one million?”

The controversy signaled a loss of trust in the administration. Back in college, it meant incessant rallies and suspicions of government moves to quash opposition and stay in power.

Arroyo nonetheless finished her six years, not without making a televised apology for “talking to a Comelec official”.

Meanwhile, we barely heard from Commissioner Virgilio “Garci” Garcillano since.

Ryan and I had already graduated to the media and covered our first elections. Ryan broke news from the Comelec during Halalan 2010, while I was sent to top election hot spot Maguindanao.

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

This weekend, Garci invited our team and a score of other media people here, an hour’s drive south of Cagayan De Oro.

What he had to say, we did not know.

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He’s back: Trailing a returning senator

Poster for Panfilo Lacson's return at the Senate, March 28 Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan

3 of these tarps welcome people entering the Senate on March 28. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Every Monday, the Senate of the Philippines clears the first lane of parking on its front for the 8 o’clock flag-raising.

Broadcast vans waiting to set up for the day’s sessions would have to wait till the employees finish the ceremony. Soon as they leave, it’s a race for prime parking slots.

But on this particular Monday, March 28, no session was afoot.

In fact, the Senate had already begun its session break. Apparently, this center stage of the news for a week now was not yet done for.

Only a discreet plane arrival the previous Saturday brought us all here. Many assumed it would happen any time after the Court of Appeals said no more legal barriers blocked this man’s showing up.

So, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, missing in action for over a year, was finally returning to his office and breaking his verbal silence with the press.

ABS-CBN News set up at Lacson press conference Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

With their tripods, enterprising cameramen had reserved frontal spots opposite the conference table in the Senate’s Laurel room where we expected Lacson to speak.

Our tech team fixed up a control booth at the adjacent Pecson room, from where we would feed the press conference raw.

A van and a separate cam transmitted the live reports of our reporter Lynda Jumilla.

Judging by the setups and the reporters converging there, the media seemed out to get from Lacson one year’s worth of unsaid soundbites.

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Top stories from Mendiola

Sept 24 student walkout mendiola shot by Marco Gutierrez ABS-CBN News

“Anjo, nagkakagulo raw diyan. Puntahan nyo. Ili-live natin yan.”

Our afternoon deployments usually land us in Mendiola, that Manila landmark suggestive of white uniforms and red banners. The traffic can get heavy, and the parking tight, but we set up at this university area when needed.

Mendiola is the closest our ENG vans usually get to Malacanang, the nation’s center of power. It is also the quickest way our crews covering the President send video back to the station in Quezon City.

Depending on the day’s flow of stories, Mendiola becomes a hub for our late-running stories in the Manila area.

Palace reporter Willard Cheng’s cameraman or driver would drop by the van to drop off CF cards (before, tapes) from their coverage for feeding. On heavier days we would edit packages or set up for live.

It’s a different story from the the other end of the street.

College Students walkout to Mendiola Sept 24 on education budget

We were only expecting a feed one Friday afternoon. As we struggled to secure parking for a Ford van, a Nissan Frontier and a huge generator-toting truck near the Malacanang gate, base called.

Move closer to the Mendiola peace arch, they said. A rally apparently went haywire.

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On the tube: Typhoon Santi floods Laguna

We only wished that that Saturday was like any other first day of the annual Undas (a.k.a. All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day). For TV news, it involved the usual live points at the busiest cemeteries, transport terminals, and highways.

But on November 1, another storm in a stormy year hit Luzon.

It was three letters after the two worst typhoons of 2009, and like those after, one could only guess which areas “Santi” (a.k.a. Mirinae), would hit and how hard.

The “Saint” on All Saints’ Day broke land early morning, and with it the reports of strong winds and rising waters south of Manila.

The desk tasked us to monitor traffic at the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) for “Salamat Dok”, and then move to Los Baños, Laguna later. The province, apparently, suffered the worst.

The gales, not the rains, stopped us from setting up at our planned live point above a flyover. Our nominally sturdy van already swayed with the winds.

Our engineer could not and would not call the setup, not even after we moved to a gas station. So we spent the entire dawn parked there, waiting for instructions and for the worst to fade.

They sent us on to Laguna later. Then the rains had stopped, the wind blew quietly, the sun was out, and “Salamat Dok” was over.

The drive there yielded no dramatic video the likes of Ondoy and Pepeng. Save for some fallen branches, uprooted trees and a few submerged roadways, it seemed no storm had passed.

Had we gone straight to Laguna during “Santi’s” height, like reporter Ryan Chua and his team, our “award-winning” cameraman Bernie Mallari would have caught more action.

Ryan rode on to the capitol in Sta. Cruz just to get government’s side. His exclusive video of the storm all came from the road and told all.

The ENG van team pulled over in Los Baños, the farthest our signal could reach.

Ryan had to send us his tapes so we could transmit it to ABS-CBN. He then came back two-plus hours before 6 p.m. to edit his story.

The live-package report aired on TV Patrol Sabado shows the challenge of balancing TV news values: editing in all the good shots, following the script, allowing for very last minute changes, all the while making it to the first gap of the newscast.

After the adrenaline rush of airing it, we dined on roasted bangus, lechon manok, and hot rice on the banks of the Laguna de Bay. We then packed for home.

All afternoon and evening, our “Saint” was no more in sight.

In the eye of 2 storms

Evacuees at Pasig City PhilSports arena / Ultra standing to Mass. They were housed there in the aftermath of typhoon Ondoy / Pepeng

Hands down, our country has not witnessed a storm like it in recent memory.

And make that two. Ondoy and Pepeng (alternately Ketsana and Parma) hit at the main artery of our archipelago that their impact was felt far wider and far longer.

Uncannily, few in our typhoon-frequented nation had predicted the terrible flooding that enveloped Metro Manila after Ondoy. That it gradually happened on a weekend delayed the realization and response to the tragedy.

A child evacuee in Pasig City PhilSports arena / Ultra, which took in hundreds of families displaced by the floods caused by typhoon Ondoy / Ketsana

Even the agencies expected to provide that response fell short of workers, many of them stranded by the floods, including media.

At news, our reporters and crews who lived far from Quezon City could not go to work. The extra efforts of the few who did go out produced the weekend’s most dramatic images, like the San Mateo “surfers.”

Living in Las Piñas, I had to wait till Monday to report for duty. There I made up for it–my first output for TV Patrol and my first overnight on the field.

ABS-CBN reporter Ryan Chua going live from Marikina City's H. Bautista Elementary School after typhoon Ondoy / Ketsana

Despite our setbacks, the media essentially “governed” the country that September 26 morning as the nation made sense of the floods and the government was nowhere in sight.

Airtime on TV and radio was given to callers and texters stuck on their rooftops

It was simply rain–an overnight of uninterrupted downpour with few winds. The Metro only under Signal Number 1, Ondoy was assumed to simply pass by.

It simply did not. Continue reading