Of memorials and moving forward

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Life after Yolanda, Log 3

Banner in Tacloban City says "Arise and Shine Tacloban -- God is with us." (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

One of many statement banners in downtown. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

TACLOBAN CITY—The longer our news team has been here, the daily grind of stories we’ve been telling in post-Yolanda Leyte and Samar has looked back less on the tragedy we’ve seen and has turned instead to the mechanics of moving on.

We see more people walking the streets during the day, especially in downtown. Sidewalk stalls selling everything from fruit to fashion are flocked with buyers. And except for the torn roofs and the tenantless ruins left as scars of the storm, it seems it’s business as usual.

We’ve reported on how businesses have begun opening again and on how clean water and electricity need to be restored fast. At our news team’s impromptu story conferences over breakfast, we’ve called these updates “normalization” stories.

But what here is normal? It’s a word that Tacloban vice mayor Jerry Yaokasin hears often (usually from reporters) yet questions.

“We cannot say the city is now normal, because we will never be normal again,” he told them.

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Camp-out at Tacloban airport

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Life after Yolanda, Log 2

Sunrise at bombed-out Tacloban City airport (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

TACLOBAN CITY–They’ve been there for two weeks. After chasing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) southward–from Albay to Sorsogon and across the channel to Samar, one of our news field operations teams drove to the Tacloban Airport and set up ABS-CBN’s second satellite live point in the city on November 14.

The terminal had been inundated with the influx of rescue and relief operations  from outside and the exodus of desperate residents from the city. Crowds of people begged for space in the departing military planes. Reports said President Aquino would also arrive.

The wrecked airport was where this calamity story was moving, and even international news services like CNN were already airing live reports from there. Our setup at the provincial capitol could not move elsewhere for security reasons. Plus, the requirements of an anchor and 5 reporters were too much for just one.

The only spot the team of 15 could find for their broadcast setup was beside the ruins of an eatery. Their other choices were risky all the same. Around them were more wreckage and unpicked cadavers. Even the area they picked had to be cleared of trash and debris.

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Dead Leyte firemen honored as heroes

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

A fire truck carrying a flag-draped casket in honor of five fallen fire service men passes through Rizal Avenue in Tacloban City. (Shot by Jong De Guzman)

(Shot by Jong De Guzman)

TACLOBAN CITY – Sirens wailed through downtown Tacloban as firefighters paid tribute to comrades who died during the onslaught of super typhoon Yolanda.

At a motorcade that waded through the city’s main streets under the heat of day, members of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) stood guard over a casket draped with a flag and perched atop a fire truck. It represented not only one, but five fire service officers washed away by flood waters as they rescued relatives and compatriots.

The BFP is still busy with relief, recovery, and restoration efforts, but they halted it on Wednesday to honor the lives of SFO4 Ricardo Raga, SFO3 Marius Andre Sison, FO2 Rolando Cinco, FO1 Felix Miranda, and FO1 Melquiades Baguio.

These fire servicemen, like others, were on red alert during the storm. Their bodies, identified by uniforms, were found days later and buried soon after.

“They responded to the call of duty, I respect them so much,” said S/Supt. Pablito Cordeta, the BFP director for Region VIII. “They’re really heroes.”

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Welcome to destruction

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Life after Yolanda Log 1

Aerial view of Tacloban City coastline damaged by Typhoon Haiyan / Yolanda (Shot Nov. 26, 2013 by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

TACLOBAN CITY–“Maligayang pagdating sa Tacloban,” the flight attendant’s voice said over the intercom. Our DHC-8 Q400 plane approached what was left of the terminal of the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport, the end of a dawn trip from Manila that included a two-hour layover in Cebu.

The attendant merely read through the airline’s usual spiel for landings, but it was odd hearing them after the sight that welcomed us from the air: Bare mountains, smoking coastlines, and devastation that grew clearer and larger as the plane descended into the runway.

For the plane’s multinational group of passengers, most of them here to help in relief operations, this was the unwanted greeting they expected to get.

Two small commercial jets like ours were on the tarmac, proof of the effort to ensure Tacloban’s, and consequently, Leyte Island’s connection to the world. That despite the obvious incapacity of its airport. Military personnel took over the smashed-up control tower. A portable radar antenna they brought in scanned the horizon from the runway.

Landing at the damaged terminal of Tacloban City Airport. A United Nations representatives receives foreign aid workers. (Shot Nov. 26, 2013 by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shots by Anjo Bagaoisan)

A donated tarpaulin identified the arrival area, which was plastered with announcements for foreigners. There were technical summaries of the ground situation. Other signage gave contact details for certain nationalities. A booth manned by a representative of the United Nations registered their names.

Airport staff did their best to carry on with work. Baggage hauled by cart went inside the terminal and were dropped directly on the ruined conveyor belt. Across a neck-high makeshift divider, one could see departing passengers line up for security checks in plastic tents.

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By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

After Pablo Log 2

View of Baganga town in Davao Oriental after it was struck by Typhoon Pablo (Shot by Chiara Zambrano)

BAGANGA, DAVAO ORIENTAL–They’ve never experienced anything like it.

Old-timers here say the last storm of this scale passed them in 1912.

For a century after, the town of Baganga (pronounced ba-GANG-ga) and its neighbors breezed through warnings of strong gales and signal 3 typhoons.

Then came Pablo.

The warnings this time to prepare or leave were hardly heeded by some. They thought it would be just like the previous ones, where nothing happened.

Pablo passed, but it carried away with it their homes, their food, their livelihood, and for a number, their loved ones and their future.

The sight of children signaling vehicles with palms outstretched is growing familiar to those travelling the roads of this region.

At other roadsides, families and neighbors who lost their homes huddle under makeshift shacks of torn iron roofing, plastic tarp, or banana leaves.

Some have brandished signs saying “Donation pls.” or “Tabang”, the local word for “Help”.

With the civilized world waiting in bated breath for the “end” of the world, their cares tug more at the gut to even worry about it.

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Up close: ABS-CBN’s New York Festivals 2012 bets

Composite view of ABS-CBN's bets in the 2012 New York Festivals

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

(UPDATED April 18) Adversity, struggle, triumph, and a desire for change.

These are the real-life stories of ordinary Filipinos–as told by the country’s TV news organizations–that earned nods this year from the reputable New York Festivals (NYF) International Television and Film Awards.

Sixteen entries from the Philippines were picked for the competition shortlist along with hundreds of finalists from more than 30 countries.

They include documentaries on conditions faced by the poor, TV specials that relived the country’s historical moments, profiles of unique lives, and programs that searched for solutions to the nation’s woes.

Five entries from ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs were recognized this year.

They vied for the competition’s Gold, Silver, and Bronze World Medal trophies, which were awarded on April 17  in Las Vegas (the morning of April 18 Manila time). During the ceremony, one debut entry (Krusada, see below) snagged a medal.

Leading the pack is prime-time newscast TV Patrol‘s broadcast during the onslaught of tropical storm Juaning on July 26, 2011, which is nominated for the best newscast.

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Weathering Pedring

Makeshift market stalls in flooded Calumpit, Bulacan October 2011 Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan

(Shots by Anjo Bagaoisan)

CALUMPIT, BULACAN–The shouts of wares and prices rang from the rows of makeshift stalls that encroached on the road plying the town market.

A tindera invited passers-by to try her tilapia, while another wrapped bananas in rice paper and watched over the turon deep-frying in a pan. The prices were largely the same, but few stopped to buy.

Paces away, hundreds of people crisscrossed the kilometer-long pool of water covering this basin-like side of the MacArthur Highway.

Mass of people walking flooded Calumpit Bulacan town center October 2011. Shot by Chito Concepcion.

(Shot by Chito Concepcion)

Traveling north to Apalit, Pampanga or south to Malolos, most trudged knee-deep in the water, recurrent images alluding to the crossing of the Red Sea.

People who preferred themselves dry paid at least 20 pesos for a seat in canoes docked there like jeepneys, barkers calling the shots. Also for rent: an air bed. Motorcyclists could hire a boat or a pedicab to ferry their bikes for close to 500 pesos.

Those who wouldn’t afford the ride could also hitch one on the empty dirt trucks employed to carry many over still-impassable throughways in Central Luzon.

People riding boats over Calumpit, Bulacan floods October 2011. Shot by Anjo BagaoisanMotorcycles ferried across Calumpit, Bulacan floods October 2011 Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan

(Shots by Anjo Bagaoisan)

After 5 days, the flood had not subsided from either the road or the real kiosks of the vendors in the pamilihang-bayan. More so in the 22 barangays submerged in this town.

A few more feet, and we would have seen Thailand’s floating market.

The vendors have begun to literally pick up the wet pieces and return to business as usual.

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Mina’s mixed signals

(Shot by Jeffrey Agustin, ABS-CBN News Isabela)

(Shot by Jeffrey Agustin, ABS-CBN News Isabela)

TUGUEGARAO CITY, CAGAYAN–When you set out to welcome a storm, it either shows up elsewhere or merely sneaks a peek.

That’s a running joke among our field teams. When the wrath of storms do tread (Milenyo, Ondoy, Pepeng, and so on), they’ve often met no welcoming committee.

Still, it has always been better to be there and prepared than scooped and sorry.

The instinct for anticipation, prized all too well in coverage, thus extends to the unpredictable arena of rains and tempests.

Riding two pickups and a truck, we drove north for eight hours to meet Mina, the first storm weeks after a succession of others pummeled southern Luzon.

It’s a welcome break from weeks of covering a dengue outbreak and Senate hearings galore.

We would work with our regional news teams in Isabela. On the road, I asked TV Patrol Cagayan Valley anchor Darlene Gemino how things were.

“Parang ‘ala naman bagyo (It seems like there’s no typhoon),” she texted. “No rains, normal lang situation dito.”

Prepping for the storm in Isabela. (Shot by Joni Teneza, ABS-CBN News Isabela)

(Shot by Joni Teneza, ABS-CBN News Isabela)

All the way to Ilagan City, the winds blew strongly here and gently there. No sight of rain at first, and then it drizzled as we neared.

Manila called when we arrived. “It doesn’t look like a signal number 2,” I told our news desk head.

“Really?” she said. “But PAGASA says it’s already signal number 3 there.”

Deploying teams to cover nature’s fury is entirely played by ear, unlike for events shaped by people.

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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.