All eyes on Janet Napoles (no more)

ABS-CBN cameraman shooting the facade of the Philippine Senate on the wait for Janet Lim Napoles (Shot Nov 7, 2013 by Anjo Bagaoisan)

On guard in front of the Senate (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

None of us caught a glimpse of Janet Lim-Napoles when she arrived at the Senate on November 7. That, despite the best-laid coverage plans and the most pervasive camera placements in and around the compound.

That morning, media vehicles trailed a convoy that sped away from Napoles’s detention cell in Fort Sto. Domingo, Laguna. Some had lenses trained on it the whole ride, airing live via mobile transmitters.

Our broadcast facilities at the Senate were all set up the night before, fired up since 4 a.m., and waiting. Up to the last minute, news bosses talked with the Senate media bureau, haggling set-up spaces and running lists of personnel for accreditation.

The last time the Senate saw something this big was during the impeachment trialof former Chief Justice Renato Corona. Channels devoting special coverage again put up remote studios in allocated halls. Stages for live stand-ups were erected at the parking lot. Big news orgs like ABS-CBN fielded at least 6 reporter crews to the place. Robotic CCTV-style cameras were hung above the Senate session hall.

ABS-CBN reporter Ron Gagalac preparing to report on ANC from the Senate on Janet Napoles at the Pork Barrel Scam hearing (Shot Nov 7, 2013 by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Ron Gagalac on ANC. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

But the convoy from Laguna didn’t go straight to the Senate basement where VIPs of previous famous hearings usually headed. Instead, it stopped near the gate, beside a restricted side entrance for employees. Cameramen rushed there too late to see anyone important.

With no confirmation if Napoles had indeed arrived, we assumed the convoy was a decoy and waited a little more. One of our producers said he had sources saying Napoles was not yet here.

But a few minutes later, Janet Napoles entered the Senate plenary hall from a holding area reserved for senators. She wore a police-issued bulletproof vest—her same getup when we last saw her being rushed to a jailhouse in Makati.

Face-to-face

Napoles sat on one side of the rectangular arrangement of desks, directly opposite the senators. Beside her were two public attorneys, hired by the Senate to fill in for Napoles’s private counsel, who resigned. The whistleblowers, also in bulletproof vests, faced her from the right.

Monitors on ABS-CBN OB van show Janet Lim Napoles (Shot Nov 7, 2013 by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Split screens and Janet Napoles from the robotic camera. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

At our OB van, the technical director readied a split-screen template set against a graphic designed for this coverage. The producers wanted to see the reactions of Napoles, the whistleblowers, and the senators to each question and answer, so their shots had to be shown side-by-side.

Some of the Senate cleaning staff took a break to watch the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on TV screens. Even the session hall had to extend seating capacity to 300. Among the restrictions inside—wearing shirts with political statements. Outside, militant groups came to protest.

Everyone wanted to hear what Napoles would say. None perhaps more than Sen. Miriam Santiago. Santiago had tweeted that she would get up from her “sick bed” just to grill Napoles.

Miriam’s turn to interrogate Janet was riveting, even entertaining. But after appealing to conscience, warning against possible death, employing reverse psychology, dispensing legal advise, and even name-dropping suspects, it grew frustrating.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago holds a press conference after interrogating Janet Napoles  (Shot Nov 7, 2013 by Anjo Bagaoisan)

After the interrogation, a presser for Senator Miriam. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The other senators rephrased their questions and asked in stages, but they got nothing.

Napoles would say variations of these:

  1. “Hindi ko po alam”;
  2. “May kaso na po kami sa korte, BIR, Ombudsman, etc.”;
  3. “I invoke my right against self-incrimination.”

Someone took count–19 times for “I don’t know”, and 22 for “I invoke”. Filipinos have seen too many Senate hearings not to find those answers oddly familiar. Some waited for the usual final card to be played: the appeal to health.

The hearing looked futile–its bird would not sing. But Blue Ribbon Committee chairperson Sen. TG Guingona saw it differently. He had previously fought to summon Napoles to the Senate floor.

Contrasts

Guingona said the contrast between Napoles’s “general denials” and the whistleblowers’ “positive assertions” was clear to those watching. For him, the hearing allowed the public to scrutinize Napoles’s credibility.

Whistleblowers Marina Sula, Merlina Suñas, Benhur Luy and ,  Gertrudes Luy face Janet Napoles at the Senate (Shot Nov 7, 2013 by Allan Pingol, ABS-CBN News)

Janet Napoles surrounded by lawyers from the Public Attorney's Office (Shot Nov 7, 2013 by Angel Valderrama, ABS-CBN News) Beside Napoles, public lawyers she first met on this day. Facing her, her accusers. (Shots by Angel Valderrama & Allan Pingol, ABS-CBN News)

Santiago, meanwhile, suspected that Napoles was torn between protecting her alleged godfathers in government and saving her self. Santiago insisted though that there were bigger fish in the alleged pork barrel scam than Napoles.

The entire time, our lead anchor Lynda Jumilla sat in the Senate studio listening and typing notes. When the session called a break–like when Napoles asked to eat–the ABS-CBN News Channel would ask Lynda to fill in with a report. Occasionally, Channel 2 would also air Lynda’s updates.

Aided by a producer and two coordinators, Lynda invited senators and Justice Sec. Leila de Lima to talk with her live. And while there, she still managed to get first the sides of senators who were absent.

Lynda was sent a picture of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada watching ANC’s coverage in the United States. Then, after Senator Santiago unleashed diatribes against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Sergio Osmeña III, Enrile texted Lynda a reaction. Osmeña even went down from his office to be interviewed live.

Lynda Jumilla interviews Sen. Francis Chiz Escudero the day Janet Napoles faced the Senate. (Shot Nov 7, 2013 by Anjo Bagaoisan)

On ANC: Lynda Jumilla interviews Chiz Escudero. Click the pic to watch. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

As stealthily as Napoles came in, so did she leave. Few looked for her once the hearing ended. No media convoys followed her back to Fort Sto. Domingo. Reporters were busy getting reactions and filing stories.

Napoles was bumped off the top story during the primetime newscasts, when President Aquino came on TV pleading with Filipinos in the Visayas to evacuate their homes from nearing super storm Yolanda (Haiyan). His live speech cut into Ron Gagalac’s wrap-up report of the hearing.

The typhoon was in the minds of half the country that night, and the tragedy that followed took their attentions entirely off Napoles and the pork barrel scam.

But it did not stop some from reminding everyone what could have been avoided had not the nation’s taxes been tampered. Actress Angel Locsin asked that Napoles be shown TV coverage of the typhoon in her cell, hoping that she might feel remorse over what she allegedly did.

Napoles’s first face-to-face with the Senate was already set late due to an earthquake, an election, and a holiday. They said this was not the last. But after Yolanda, who knows when the next will be.

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On the part of the Senate: Closing time at the 15th Congress

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

ABS-CBN video monitor showing scenes at the Senate during Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile's speech resigning the Senate Presidency. (Shot June 5, 2013 by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The last stretch of regular sessions at the Philippine Congress each year are  largely unremarkable. Even their schedule is nondescript–two weekdays snuck in at the end of summer vacation. And every three years, it comes just after the winners of the incoming Congress have been proclaimed.

This routine resumption avails little for the news media attuned more to clashes, exposés and sensational investigations. But it was different when the Senate briefly returned to session on June 5, 2013.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile opened the plenary with a privilege speech blasting the critics among his colleagues, ruing over his son Jack’s failed Senate run, and finally, tendering his resignation as Senate President. He then left the session hall, no longer to return till the next Congress.

Broadcast outlets, some of whom got wind of Enrile’s apparent bombshell a day before, came early that day to set up control booths for airing the speech live.

What Enrile would say was expected to be hot copy after days of news about the impending change of the guard in the Senate once the administration-heavy lineup of winning solons took their seats in July.

Few foreknew that he would resign.

Before the session began, a Senate staff member expressed hopes that the speech would avoid controversy. It would only divert attention—and precious time—from the pile of last-minute legislative work.

The speech indeed did its work, and the session was paralyzed for the rest of the day. Yet not all of Enrile’s opponents were present to hear his attacks.

Sen. Franklin Drilon making a phone call at the Senate floor after Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile walks out folllowing his resignation as Senate President (Shot June 5, 2013 by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Drilon making a call after the walkout. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

A TV news producer got the text and scanned it quickly, circling any references to other senators. He then told the live feed director near him whose reaction to show next: Senators Antonio Trillanes, Pia Cayetano, or Franklin Drilon. The two men, seated apart, were caught smiling during key points in the speech.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who engaged Enrile in a personal debate months back, only showed up after Enrile walked out.

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Losses and look-backs—PinoyJourn’s 2012 top posts

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Anjo solo editing PC Cateel - Shot by MelThe year 2012 was one big nostalgia trip in ways both fun and tragic.

As seen in the stories covered by this blogger, our nation dealt with death many times over, the lot of them persons of influence.

Their passing inadvertently brought us back pleasant memories of their heyday years. For one loss, we mused what might have been in the future.

2012 was also a good year for one personality, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. His role in the biggest political event of the year paved the way for many to revisit his controversial life.

But as a student and practitioner of media, the biggest commemoration of the year is the silver anniversary of the country’s longest-running primetime newscast, TV Patrol.

It’s a program I have been privileged to contribute to on a daily basis in the field. TV Patrol’s 25th year also allowed me a rare glimpse of the show’s evolving look and recent history as it was covered.

Among those historic events were calamities, which again began and ended 2012.

A little showbiz intrigue added to the visits to this blog, which jumped to the thousands per month. People came searching for Umagang Kay Ganda hosts Andrei Felix and Venus Raj, who went public with their relationship this year.

And as in 2011, a quaint book review also brought in visitors interested in a fictional Belgian detective.

But still, the big events and characters of the year—and also some scene-stealers—were what riveted PinoyJourn readers.

Again, with the fervent wish for more meaningful stories to tell, I hope for opportunities to write other pieces that go beyond behind the scenes.

A big thanks to the readers who help keep this blog running.

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Juan Ponce Enrile and history

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

*Read behind-the-scenes stories of the Corona trial verdict day here.

Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate President and impeachment court presiding officer banging the gavel on the guilty verdict against Renato Corona.(ABS-CBN / TV Patrol footage)

Click to watch highlights of the Corona trial verdict. (ABS-CBN / TV Patrol footage)

He was not a witness, but many dubbed him the “star” of the trial that ultimately removed Chief Justice Renato Corona from office.

Many followers of the impeachment proceedings found a renewed appreciation for Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile: firm, resolute, and–at 88 years old–mentally agile in his role as presiding judge of the court.

He insisted on the judges’ impartiality in dealing with the trial panels, hearing testimonies, and accepting evidence. He strove to maintain order when senator-judges raised hell or participants appeared to act with disrespect.

While he cast the final vote convicting Corona, his justification speech equally scored weaknesses in the prosecution and defense. More so, he bared the pros and cons resulting from either decision his court would make.

Enrile pounding his gavel would become one of the trial’s enduring images.

With high trust ratings, it appeared he was the one who gained the most goodwill and political capital from the trial–even compared to President Aquino, who had a big stake in the impeachment drive.

But JPE, also known more recently as Manong Johnny, was not always publicly seen as this lamp of wisdom and direction.

Political phoenix

Few politicians are widely recognized by their acronyms as JPE. A lawyer, bureaucrat, and lawmaker, the only thing missing was had he become President of the Philippines. And for a time, Enrile was in a position to possibly become that.

Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel V. Ramos withdrawing support for Marcos in 1986. (Footage courtesy of ABS-CBN's EDSA 25 documentary)

Enrile and Ramos in 1986. (Courtesy of ABS-CBN News & Current Affairs’ EDSA 25 documentary)

School history books written in the recent 20 years have cited him as one of the sparks that ignited the bloodless first EDSA revolt.

And it is to his and then Gen. Fidel V. Ramos’ withdrawal of support for Pres. Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 that some align his presiding of the Corona impeachment trial—both preludes to the downfall of public figures.

The high points of JPE’s public life are a string of reviled decisions and redemptive actions. Falls and rises.

Political phoenixes are no stranger to the Philippines. But Enrile’s career spanning half a century is perhaps the biggest testament to this.

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#CJonTrial: Last full show at the Senate

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

ABS-CBN News live setup outside Senate (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The excitement over Day 44 of the trial deciding the fate of Chief Justice Renato Corona, as expected, spilled way past the Senate grounds.

Outside the gate, the long line of prospective watchers was up for a final effort. As before, only 40 green passes to the Session Hall would be given out.

And no ticket more, this last full show already full. Not even for actor Pen Medina, who showed up with a “Convict Corona” shirt. He took it off to comply with regulations, yet still missed the cut.

Farther off at the Senate security checkpoint beside the Manila Film Center, three news vans were parked near a barricade and a throng of anti-riot police.

This spot was the closest any groups wanting to amass in protest or support could get to the Senate.

Close to noon, nearly 50 members of a health workers’ group arrived with “Guilty!” signs. They brought out effigies of Corona, his benefactor Gloria Arroyo, and of President Aquino.

They wanted a Corona conviction, but hoped the alternative was not a Supreme Court controlled by the President. They left after 30 minutes.

Akbayan members brandish "Convict Corona" signs outside Senate during impeachment verdict (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

A group of the same number, this time from Akbayan, a party allied with Aquino, later came with yellow placards that all repeated “Convict” and “Guilty”.

Unlike before, only one side came out that day. Many of those praying for an acquittal for Corona remained at the Supreme Court to watch the Senate verdict via an LCD projector.

The Akbayan assembly stayed on to monitor the votes cast by the 23 senator-judges through a radio piped into their mobile speakers.

ABS-CBN’s cameras were trained on both spots for live reactions to the moment of decision.

At ABS’s Senate OB van control, it was business as usual, yet spiced with the excitement of a final sprint.

The crews manning the facilities that broadcast the trial sessions and live reports for Channel 2, ANC, and DZMM had been at it since January. And except for infrequent session lulls, their work routines for four months have been 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., all to and from the Senate.

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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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Big switches

Fast forward two weeks later.

The country, after the euphoria of witnessing a speedy election count, now takes a sober look back.

Its big jump to automation has produced one of the most interesting switches–or re-switches–of our leaders yet. The roll of public officials attaining or resuming power in 2010 will confuse anyone trying to put a pin on the Filipino’s fluid voting standards.

Start with the 15th Congress. In Pinoy Big Brother Celebrity Edition style, only 2010 will bring together the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Imelda Marcos, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in one House.

The new batch of senators are a bunch of old names–reelectionists, returnees, and relatives.

And as if one was not enough, our “president-apparent” is another offspring of another former president.

We’re seeing history repeat itself with a twisted sense of humor.

Many point out the irony of an incoming President Aquino III along with an incoming Senator Marcos Jr. And the horror of a State of the Nation Address with Aquino talking, Marcos and Arroyo behind him.

Picture of Pres. Gloria Arroyo surrounded by Maguindanao governors Andal Ampatuan Sr and Datu Sajid AmpatuanMaguindanao governor elect Esmael Toto Mangudadatu hours before he is proclaimed in Shariff Aguak

Other victories portend the possibilities of change. In Maguindanao, a widower is picking up the pieces half-left by the regime that murdered his wife.

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