BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Friday, December 14, 2007

Maria Ressa on the Pen incident

Position Paper for the Senate's Committee on Justice and Human Rights
By: Maria A. Ressa
Head, ABS-CBN News & Current Affairs Division

On November 29, 2007, more than 30 journalists were arrested, handcuffed and transported to Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan. 12 of the journalists were from ABS-CBN, detained as "witnesses and suspects," according to the police. Others were told they would be released as soon as their identities were verified. Our Head of Newsgathering, Charie Villa, went immediately to the Peninsula Hotel to identify our people; yet, she was told they would still have to be arrested and brought to Bicutan. We believe this move sets a dangerous precedence and erodes our nation's democracy.

There are two points I'd like to make about the role of media in conflict situations like the Peninsula siege. First, our democracy rests on the principle that the people have a right to know. Section 7, Article III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution recognizes "the right of the people to information on matters of public concern."

Law enforcement and government officials must be accountable to the public, and our history has shown there is no better means to do that during crisis situations than live television coverage. In a 2004 national survey by ABS-CBN, over 90% of adult Filipinos say that during any major event, they look for news, with 87% turning to TV to make sure they're informed. After the 2007 elections, that increased, hitting 92% in the National Capital Region, according to Pulse Asia.

The clamor for information increases during times of uncertainty, highlighted during nearly a dozen coup attempts and withdrawals of support in the last two decades: in 1986 and 2001, military moves turned into successful people power revolts; while failed attempts were televised during Edsa Tres, the Oakwood Mutiny and the Peninsula siege. Since these three failed, it obviously doesn't follow that television coverage automatically means success. During all these, 1986 excluded, ABS-CBN reported in a similar and consistent fashion, spurred on by the public's right to know. In performing our duty, we accepted the risks, including overturned and burned vehicles and the mauling of reporters (not by the police but by a sector of the public we serve).

While the State has the right to protect itself, the public has the right to know - and as we have seen, the Filipino has always made a choice. Focus group discussions (FGDs) conducted by ABS-CBN between December 3-5 reflect that. They expressed an overwhelming sentiment that they want to be kept informed, saying live television coverage should continue. We believe this is critical because an uninformed public makes any democracy unstable; it is in this light that media should be considered partners in promoting democracy rather than the other way around.

It is important that the public has the information it needs to make an informed decision because that is the foundation of our democracy. Yet, by arresting our journalists, authorities effectively shut down ANC's live coverage of the post-siege situation at the Peninsula Hotel. They tried to confiscate videotapes and equipment from reporters, photographers and cameramen. The police violated their own definition of the "crime scene" by approaching our transmission facilities outside the Peninsula to try to confiscate our videotapes and stop our coverage. This is effectively censorship - at a time when the conflict had all but been resolved. To date, they still have at least one videotape and two radios owned by ABS-CBN.

The second point which has clear ramifications for the future is the role journalists play in conflict situations like Edsa, Oakwood and the Peninsula. On December 5, DILG Sec. Ronaldo Puno called the Peninsula a "crime scene" and said that journalists violated two laws at the Peninsula siege. He cited Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code which has to do with "resistance and disobedience of persons in authority" and PD 1821 for "obstruction of justice."

These statements have far-reaching consequences because now every journalist reporting on a conflict situation has to worry that he/she may be arrested and charged. Beyond that, if the journalist can be charged so can news organizations. This is no longer a threat but a reality and creates a "chilling effect" for working journalists, who can now be charged like common criminals.

Yet, we believe that the law covering the presence of journalists in conflict situations is very clear and supercedes any legislation cited by the DILG Secretary. Section 4, Article III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that "no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press."

"Was there an arrest? Yes," said Sec. Puno, "Were they charged? No. Why was there an apology? Because all of us feel bad about the way the incident materialized. We are unhappy that our friends in media had to suffer inconvenience."

In one move, the government trivialized and dismissed a violation of the Constitution as an "inconvenience."

While we understand the position of the Philippine National Police, by its own admission, it is using "SOPs" created in 2006. PNP Memorandum Circular No. 2006-09-01 tells the police what to do with perpetrators, hostages and witnesses. It has no provisions for journalists, who are part of the landscape in conflict situations. This may be the first time these rules were used. It is also the first time that the PNP has been the lead agency in a political conflict situation - which is how many journalists would characterize the event, not just a "crime scene" complete with overtones of bank robberies and murder. Every other coup attempt or passive withdrawals of support in the past twenty one years were handled by the Department of National Defense. Perhaps this is part of the reason why the rules were changed in the Peninsula siege.

We journalists are by no means perfect. Some of us can be arrogant at times and that is how we have been portrayed by the police in this instance. But the reason we need to hold the line is simply because if we give in, we would have contributed to weakening our democracy by depriving the public of the information it wants and needs.

Having reported from numerous combat zones in Southeast Asia and around the world, I am very aware of the risks we face as journalists. In Indonesia, I barely survived a cross-fire between government troops and protestors. In Aceh, my team and I were detained but that's to be expected given the authoritarian regime then. In East Timor, Pakistan, India, China - despite the dangers and restrictions, you calculate the risks and always make sure the odds are high that you will survive to tell the story. What I have learned from experience is that every situation is different, and what you do depends on the system of government you're operating under, i.e. you would not make the same decision under a democracy that you would under a dictatorship.

Every journalists' and news organizations' assessment of risk varies. That is why I find it slightly ludicrous for the PNP to quote the Ethics Manuals of the CBC, BBC and ABS-CBN to bolster its point that all journalists should have left when requested - that there is a one-size-fits-all response. All these codes do in these instances is give guidance - the philosophy of the organization - but in the end, the judgement call and the decision to stay or to go - as well as the risks that entails - falls with the journalist. We balance the fear for personal safety with the duty to report the truth.

The police claim we were being used because they said some Magdalo soldiers changed clothes and put on press passes. Everyone tries to use us, including the police and military intelligence agents who were pretending to be journalists. During the crisis, we did not report that because we did not want to compromise their work, but their presence increased the danger for us. Those agents could have easily told their superiors who were the real journalists and who were only masquerading.

We categorically state that at no instance did any journalist "obstruct justice" at the Peninsula. Mere presence and reporting the news is not obstruction of justice. Recordings made by the police of our live coverage are now being used by authorities as evidence against those it charged in court. The police even acknowledged that there was a failure of communication within their organization. They mobilized only after they were "informed" of the event through TV and radio coverage. It is clear the police benefited from us doing our job. We cannot be both obstructing and helping justice simultaneously.
Our fear is that the arrests of journalists may herald a new, more dangerous time ahead. In recent years, many developments have eroded press freedom in our country. In 2003, there were more journalists killed in the Philippines than in Iraq, and today - despite pressure from the international community - the extrajudicial killings of journalists and leftist leaders continue with virtual impunity. Intimidation tactics, indirect pressure and libel suits have been used to attempt to control journalists. In 2006, Proclamation 1017 severely curtailed press freedom after authorities threatened to shut down news organizations and stationed tanks outside tv networks.

Last year, Freedom House, an international group which conducts an annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, downgraded its rating of the Philippines from FREE to PARTLY FREE.

Given this context, the arrests of journalists is extremely alarming, especially since it has now been elevated as policy by Sec. Puno, who warns journalists that the police would do it again. To add insult to injury, after authorities apologized for the arrests, they began to publicly question the motives of our journalists. Officials maligned us by implying we were working with Trillanes' group despite the absolute lack of evidence for these statements. Now they say they will look at the franchises of television networks. All this only points out that the attempts to intimidate and harass journalists continue.

While it is inconvenient for law enforcement officials to have to contend with media in conflict zones, it is a necessity guaranteed by the Constitution and a check and balance of a vibrant democracy.

On November 29, the journalists who chose to stay and report on the Peninsula siege displayed tremendous courage and risked their safety for the public they serve. A colleague from the Foreign Correrespondents' Association of the Philippines captured the spirit of our thoughts: "if someone else can deliver the Truth better, we would give way. If we chose to leave at the request of the PNP, then we would have to swallow the PNP version of the Truth because we chose to give up the access we already had."

That would be a disservice to the public we all serve.


Monday, December 10, 2007


How painful can pain be? It may rip me apart momentarily but it will never break me. I may cry buckets but my soul will remain solid and unbowed. I will always win. You will never get to me.


It was past midnight. It was cold and dark that night I rushed my daughter to the emergency room of St. Luke's hospital. But nothing can compare to the chill I felt when I saw just how much we would be billed for a simple treatment for my jaundiced daughter. P50,000 for a few nights stay. It was unbelievable. That was many months ago.

I thought of this unpleasant experience when I saw Michael Moore's documentary "Sicko." The film looks at health care in the United States as provided by profit-oriented health maintenance organizations (HMOs) compared to free, universal care in Canada, the U.K., and France.

Moore interviewed patients and doctors in the U.K. about cost, quality, and salaries. He talked to U.S. expatriates in Paris about French services and he takes three 9/11 clean-up volunteers, who developed respiratory problems, to Cuba for care.

It's about many horror stories of Americans with health insurance. It's an engaging documentary, well-made and truly deserving of the thumbs-up it continues to receive from critics around the globe.

In the Philippines, there's almost no such thing as free quality healthcare.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Philippine Center for Photojournalism (PCP)

30 November 2007

Free the media, release the mediamen

Yesterday, Senator Trillanes and General Lim walked out of a court hearing in Makati, marched toward Manila Peninsula Hotel, and ventilated their grievances against the Arroyo regime.

Mediamen covered these events as professionals with the main objective of reporting on facts from which the truth can be deduced and discerned.

Tired, cold, and hungry, they went on with their jobs until dusk when the group of Senator Trillanes were flushed out by teargas, bullets and APCs.

Before the evening news went on board, mediamen who covered the event have been tied together like a bundle of culprits apprehended by policemen committing heinous crimes.

Never before have mediamen been treated with utter humiliation in the performance of their constitutionally guaranteed duty to uphold and protect the freedom of speech � not even under the most brutal autocratic military rule of Marcos.

This stark reality is staring us in the eye. This must not be condoned. This must be vigorously protested.

In the name of those who fought fighting for freedom -- from the time of the Propaganda Movement against the Spanish colonizers until now � we are appealing to the public to help us defend the gains of the people for which so many lives have already been sacrificed a century hence.

We call on the Arroyo government to free the media and release the mediamen NOW!

Monday, November 19, 2007

(Published last November 18 for the Working Moms segment of the Philippine Star)

It's amazing how a mother's womb stretches to make room for another human being. Everyday for nine months, I witnessed how my womb grew bigger and bigger until it was time for my child to be born.

From a tiny speck, she grew to become the baby girl that she would be. And every single day, during that nine-month journey, I thought about nothing but her. I ate, drank and moved with her in my mind. I slept early, took lots of rest and skipped many night gatherings to protect the life growing inside me.

Much like the womb, my life expanded to make room for another human being. I believe that is what parenting is. Your life changes totally and it takes a 360-degree turn to make room for your offspring.

Before she came along, I lived a carefree and singularly single lifestyle. I was contented with my life, making a living out of what I am most passionate about – chasing and writing stories and traveling to the different corners of the world because of what I was doing. Really, I couldn’t ask for more.

And then I became a mom. Only then did I realize that nothing will ever be as good and as fulfilling as being a mother. Journalism, although it will always be that one true job I will always want to do, comes only second to being a mom.

At 10:58 p.m. on March 31, I gave birth to the most beautiful baby girl I’ve seen my whole life. Her thick dark hair and striking big round eyes were the first things I noticed when the nurse put her on my chest. It was the first time I saw her and for several minutes, I just held her close to me, enjoying one of the most amazing moments in my life.

My daughter is now six months old. I am still chasing stories and churning out words everyday but I make sure there’s more than enough time for her and for her needs.

It’s not difficult because her father and I have become the parents that we should be. Our baby’s needs come first.

It can be physically exhausting. There are times when my already sleep-deprived soul needs to wake up very early in the morning to prepare food for the baby, bathe her and play with her. It can also be tiring to be taking care of her after work especially when you’ve had a busy day.

Being a newspaper reporter isn’t usually stressful but it can be at times, especially when you have to divide the time between covering a press conference, doing an interview and submitting around three stories in time for the 4 p.m. deadline.

It’s good that parenting is a shared responsibility. Two pairs of hands are better than just one and two minds are best when it comes to raising a child.

The difficulties, nonetheless, end at the physical level. At least for now that my child is still very young.

To be a parent is one of the best things that can happen to anyone. It’s true what they say – parents forget how tired they are when they see their offspring.

But I have no grand illusions. I know that parenting will be difficult along the way, judging from my own mother’s wrinkles and increasing number of white hair.

My simple dream is to nurture an individual who will never stop to struggle for what’s best for her and society. I believe that is what parenting is about.

When that happens, I can say that I have done it and I have done it well.

In the meantime, there’s a little girl to take care of, to grow, to nurture and to prepare for the great big world.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

cloud nine


My daughter's first word. Heard it for the first time at 5 a.m. yesterday. Nothing could be sweeter.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The kingdom of the dead

The smell of fetid sweat pervaded in the air, inside the narrow, dimly-lit walkway. In the darkness, I searched the pocket of my worn-out jeans for coins to pay for the P2 entrance fee.

A fat, friendly-looking man in plain white shirt and brown shorts was waiting at the exit to collect the money. I paid my dues and when I went past him, I was in awe of what I saw.

The maze-like passageway opened up to the kingdom of the dead. There in front of me, shining under the glimmer of the early morning sun was a vast expanse of graves and hundreds of people visiting their dead.

It was November 1 and I was at the Manila North Cemetery to chronicle this year’s All Saint’s Day commemoration. I was privileged to join Luis and Akira, two of the country’s most passionate photojournalists for the day trip.

We entered Manila’s biggest burial place through one of the many side entrances: through the homes of the many informal settlers living around the cemetery. The small handwritten sign which read, “Shortcut to FPJ, this way,” caught our attention.

The settlers have opened their homes to outsiders for P1 or P2 per person. It was a reflection of Filipino ingenuity. We wasted no time and stepped inside a small shanty. In minutes, we found ourselves inside the cemetery, just a few steps away from the grave of movie icon Fernando Poe Jr.

It was actually a small amount to pay to be very near the heart of the cemetery without passing through the barricade of policemen, traffic enforcers and volunteers who were guarding the main entrance.

We walked around the area the whole morning, taking snapshots of almost everything.

The scenes of the day were as colorful as the millions and millions of graves and epitaphs that filled the cemetery.

We climbed tombs and mausoleums and passed through mourners of all ages. Some were busy cleaning the graves of their loved ones. Many were eating, laughing and enjoying the day. Children roamed around as if they were in one giant playground. Many found time to sleep, right there on the graves of their loved ones.

Our cameras just kept on clicking. We made our way around the labyrinthine cemetery. We allowed ourselves to get lost into the dark corners and narrow walkways. In some parts, an eerie silence accompanied us. In most of the cemetery, Filipinos had one big feast.

Hunger soon caught up on us as our tired bodies also begged for rest. We left the cemetery after a few hours with pictures of the living and the dead.

It was to me, an experience for more profound than I had expected.

Monday, October 1, 2007

September 30

Sunday, at home, 11 p.m.

Ah, it's been almost eight years since I walked into the Manila Times building that memorable September of 1999. Today, under a new masthead, I'm still in this crazy world of Philippine journalism, enjoying the roller-coaster ride.

But don't get me wrong. I'm not counting. Only those who do not love what they're doing closely watch the time. Today, I'm just waxing sentimental because it's my anniversary as a journalist.

Yes, crazy me, I celebrate my entry into journalism, that one true thing I will always want to do.

This year, the earth beneath me moved many times over and swept me off my feet.

It was a BIG year of changes, of hellos and goodbyes, of greener pastures and memorable trips, of new journeys, of more bylines and of many, many mannas from the heavens.

There's so much to be thankful for but there's also a lot to think about.

I still don't know how to help make this country a better place. It won't take a genius to realize that it's only getting worse. I don't know if any of the articles I churn out everyday make any sense to the world or at least to my country and I don't know if any of my stories have made the universe a better place.

I'd be lucky if I've been able to improve even just the life of one person. Just one. But even that would be wishful thinking.

Really, I have no messianic delusions. I just find comfort in the thought that writing or rewriting history in a hurry, as what journalism is about -- will someday mean something.

In the meantime, these sentimental thoughts stop here. I've devoured the pasta and the green salad we prepared for this special day (it's also the sixth month birthday of dear Miss I).

It's back to work again. Tomorrow, there are numbers to look at, a budget deficit to monitor, sources to interview and a merciless deadline to meet.


I'm back. Haven't been able to update this blog lately. My apologies to friends who have been asking for updates.

The good news is my daughter is out of the hospital. She passed all the tests and she's ok for now. What a brave little girl.

I'm back doing the usual stuff -- chasing after the deadlines, churning out stories and trying to make my little universe a better place.

Friday, September 21, 2007

sleepless in Capitol

My dear daughter Isabel has been confined at the Capitol Medical Center and is now under observation. The good news is, she's ok, doesn't look or act like she's sick. The other news is, we have yet to wait for her tests results. She has taken all kinds of tests -- skin test, blood test, culture test and x-ray. We still don't know what's the diagnosis.

Her father and I are keeping our fingers crossed. Thank you to friends and family who have sent their messages of support. Thanks, too for the prayers.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

a pat on the back

I received a pat on the back from the higher-ups for a story I did this week. It felt really good. I hope I'll continue to stumble upon significant stories.

Monday, August 13, 2007

stranded in Kuala Lumpur

I had just landed at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark after being stranded for 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur. It's not that I had a bad deal with the extra time I had to spend there but I'm just extremely tired and I missed my dearest A very much.

For the first time in my years of roaming different corners of the world, I missed my flight. It really can't be all that good all the time. When things are going along just fine, something as horrible as missing a flight happens.

I will write more about my trip (which was as amazing as the breathtaking view of Petronas towers) in the coming days. In the meantime, I'll get a warm bath and a good rest before I get back to work again tomorrow. It's good to be home.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

the story behind the tax story

Once in a while, there comes a story that is picked up by the wires, the television media and the populist lawmakers.

The proposed 2,600 percent increase in taxes of public utility vehicles is one such story. There were only three reporters who broke the story -- Lawrence of Manila Standard, Mitch of Inquirer and myself and we're quite proud. It came out on the front pages of our newspapers and was followed up by other media the day after.

As of the moment, it has been put on hold amid vehement protests from transport groups.

Personally, I'm happy the regulation has been put on hold. For sure, there are other ways that the government can look into to raise revenues. The problem of corruption at the BIR, for instance, seems to be falling on deaf ears.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Covering the IMF

This morning, I covered the press conference of the International Monetary Fund's managing director Rodrigo de Rato.

As always, I learned and re-learned new things. In times like these, one learns from the whole briefing. There is, for one, my favorite economic journalist who never fails to dish out intelligent questions. Then, there are the different issues. There's also the difficult part of choosing the best angle for one's paper and its readers. But I love it. I've been in this business for more than five years but I continue to learn so many things. Everyday is a new day. It's magical.

five men

Driving home from work this evening along Commonwealth Avenue to Tandang Sora, I noticed five men lined up against the wall, answering the call of nature. They all looked so relieved.

About three steps away, I saw Bayani Fernando's pink urinal. It was empty and in that particular moment, it seemed really useless. What a waste of taxpayers' money.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Questions from a friend's blog...

how do you tell someone that they hurt you?

more importantly, how do you move pass the pain?

i wonder, does talking really fix things or do does it do further damage?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

budget deficit at P41 billion!?!

At ten minutes before 2 p.m., the board room at the 6th floor of the Department of Finance office was already filled to the brim. Reporters -- from television, print and wire agencies -- gathered to get the deficit report for the first half of the year.

It would be my first time to cover a budget deficit press briefing.

Finance Secretary Teves, along with other officials arrived to break the news: The government's budget deficit had swelled to P41 billion in the first half of the year, above the programmed ceiling of P31 billion.

I managed to submit the deficit story, along with three other articles ahead of my 4:30 p.m. deadline and I thought I did well.

I would later realize that I should have made more sense of the numbers.

A P41-billion budget deficit essentially means the government having less money for social services and infrastructure. It's why the cost of healthcare in the Philippines is soaring and it's why the country's roads and infrastructure remain inadequate.

It also means that corruption in the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs remain rampant, making them unable to meet their tax collection targets.

Reporting on numbers can be tricky. Next time, I promise to make it better next time.

As editors always say, we're just as good as our last story.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

In Singapore

Had a chance to see more of Singapore during my second visit to this Southeast Asian country. After Vietnam, I went to Singapore where I was to take my trip back to Manila.

I enjoyed Singapore more during this visit than the first time I saw this country three years ago.

After accomplishing my mission here, I met up with two of my sorority sisters for dinner and some drinks.

I stayed at Justine's place and what a delightful experience it was. My batchmate, you see, is such a creative genius. She is in Singapore designing buildings, homes and restaurants. I had a good sleep in her place because her creativity and ingenuity spilled all over.

The following morning, I headed straight to the airport for my trip back to Manila.

It was a tiring seven-day Southeast Asian swing but definitely worth all the trouble.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Echoes of War

HO CHI MINH, Vietnam - To many of us, the Vietnam war is a distant memory of the past. But at the War Remnants Museum here, the memories linger, constantly and painfully.

On display are hundreds of photos, artifacts and other vestiges of war crimes and aftermaths. One is moved by the portraits of foreign aggression: torture, blood, pain, desperation.

There's the Pulitzer-prize winning photo of photojournalist Kyoichi Sawada in1965 of a Vietnamese mother crossing the river with her children to flee from American bombs. (see photo)

There too, are photos of victims of Agent Orange. One child whose mother was exposed to the dioxin when she was pregnant was born without his right arm.

There's also a collection of photos taken by 134 war reporters (from 11 nationalities) killed during the Vietnam war. Through their lenses, the world saw the savagery of the war.

The war reminds all of us of the brave souls of people and the strength of the human spirit. It defines who is real and who is not. More importantly, it reminds us, constantly, of our good fortunes.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Hello, Saigon

HO CHI MINH, Vietnam - "Iri-," the immigration officer called out loudly among the passengers. I didn't realize it was me he was calling until I saw the green passport in his hand. One by one and very quickly, he checked the passports of each passenger. He was moving fast. We were at the border between Cambodia and Vietnam.

Vietnam is a place where life moves so fast. Unlike in Siem Reap, everything moves swiftly here, so fast that one risks losing a limb when crossing the streets of this Southeast Asian country.

There are pedestrian lanes but it's as if they don't exist for the never-ending stream of scooters. There are reportedly 5 million scooters in Ho Chi Minh, a city of 4.5 million people.

Really, there are bikes, cars and buses coming from all directions. They drive so fast and they weave in and around pedestrians as if we're driftwood on a raging torrent. Crossing the roads successfully is always an accomplishment.

It's also a very noisy city with horns beeping endlessly.

But when one listens closely, with his soul and his heart, one will hear not just the endless honking of cars, buses and motorcycles but the painful echoes of war...

Crossing the border to Vietnam

SIEM REAP, Cambodia - Hordes of street hawkers greeted me at the bus station here where I was to take an eight-hour trip to Vietnam.

The vendors offer everything under the sun -- from bread and vegetables to Cambodian beads, fans, hats and scarves of all colors.

But I don't really need anything to remind me of my visit here. Siem Reap is equally cheerful yet depressing, cold yet warm, silent yet friendly. These contradicting qualities make this western town of Cambodia difficult to forget.

I will always remember my friendly guide, he whose eyes are filled with hope for the future yet unable to conceal the sadness about his country's dark past. The smiles of school-age girls scattered around the muddy streets of Siem Reap as they struggle to make a living will stay in my memory for a long time. Beggars with missing legs or arms -- victims of the Khmer Rouge's land mines -- are all over. They call out to foreigners for a dollar or two.

How can one forget these vivid portraits of poverty, of desperation and of pain? In this country, the disparity between rich and poor nations is vivid. The difference is stark and telling.
The roads are muddy, filthy and dirty.

Potholes are everywhere and the sad thing is, the potholes seem to extend beyond the physical. Cambodians are very much a wounded people, no thanks to their country's bitter past.

Still, I left Siem Reap with hope for them. Someday, I know, they will conquer the monsters of the past and kill all the demons of yesterday.

Excitement filled me as I stepped on the bus. As with any other trips, I felt a strong sense of adventure to discover more, to see what lies out there, to knock myself out of the daily routine, to search for more stories, to yearn, to learn and unlearn, to affirm the joy in traveling, to enjoy everything new and foreign and to find my place between reality and the sun.

It was a grueling, eight-hour trip to Ho Chi Minh. With me on the bus are tourists and locals alike. A Mexican couple brought cans of Angkor Beer for the trip.

As we drove along, I thought I was back in Mindanao where acres and acres of rice fields stretched out into the horizon as far as the eye can see.

Houses on stilts lined the unpaved roads. The trip seemed to take forever, with the bus moving at a very slow pace. The scenery hardly changed even after several hours into the trip. I wonder what lies ahead. Where's my next stop?

Saturday, June 30, 2007

feeling like a tomb raider

SIEM REAP, Cambodia - I woke up at 4:30 a.m. today to witness the sunrise from the monuments of Angkor.

Angkor Wat is one of my favorite temples here. It is a majestic complex filled with darkened doorways, Buddhist shrines illuminated only by the flicker of a candle, the smell of incense and carvings of gods and demons.

Angkor Wat is said to be the largest and best-preserved temple at the site. It was built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city.

According to Wikipedia, Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple mountain and the later galleried temples.

"It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the gods in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 km (2.2 miles) long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers."

I stayed in Angkor Wat for almost two hours, admiring its grandeur and magnificence. Inside, in the labyrinthine walkways and stone-carved walls, I almost heard the gods and the demons call each other. It is an experience more profound than I had expected.

for Asian and non-Asian souls

SIEM REAP, Cambodia - The minute the plane touched the runway here, I thought I was in Batanes.

The wide expanse of greenery surrounding the airport and the eerie silence of the countryside reminded me of that isolated yet soulful island on the northernmost tip of the Philippine archipelago.

I soon realized, however, that Cambodia is different. It is a city still struggling to embrace the modern world, to be a major part of the Southeast Asian fold, to survive and develop but most of all, to forget its past.

Cambodians, my guide here says, have huge gaps in their stories. There are long silences when one remembers the time of Pol Pot.

"He eliminated the powerful, those with knowledge and education of the outside world," says my guide as we go around the city on his tuk-tuk. He is unable to conceal his sadness.

To this day, he says, every Cambodian is struggling to earn a living while forgetting their bitter past.

I look around. School-age girls are everywhere, selling scarves and bags for a dollar or two. In Phnom Penh, my guide says, it is worst.

The girls sell themselves for two dollars or more in stinking brothels and in dark corners, my guide says. It's sad.

But despite its bitter past during the time of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia is very much a charming place. Asian and non-Asian souls can easily find their place here. The people are friendly and the smiles are warm.

The food is good, with a mixture of Asian spices and Western influence.

These days, people earn a living from the hordes of tourists that flock everyday to have a taste of this Southeast Asian country.

The age-old temples of Angkor Wat are one of the favorite tourist spots. I look forward to my visit there.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

12 hours in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - No, I didn't find the rainbow's end here for I only had twelve hours to spare. But Malaysia -- the little that I saw -- is a charming place. The people are friendly. The sun is out. It's a beautiful morning.

In search for the rainbow's end

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - I arrived here in the middle of the night. The streets are empty. I'm staying in a budget hotel run by a sweet couple. Still groggy from a tiring flight. I'm hoping for a good night's rest.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Mapping the future through the past

Profile: Raphael P.M. Lotilla

When he’s not attending to the country’s crucial power requirements, Energy Secretary Raphael P.M. Lotilla is on a constant journey.

It is a quest that has brought him from the deepest waters of the South China sea and the southernmost tip of Borneo to the much-disputed Spratly Islands.

But don’t be mistaken. Mr. Lotilla isn’t neglecting his job for adventure travel. His journey is not really physical.
The energy chief, not many people know, is a passionate map collector, an interest that has brought him to different parts of the world.

Through these maps and charts — a mixture of antiquarian and modern cartographic pieces which he has collected through the years — he has traveled to many places and through different periods in history.

He has been able to embark on a mental journey through these rare cartographic masterpieces which he has found in as disparate places as Spain and his great-grandfather’s baul.

And through these experiences, he has learned previously undiscovered truths about the Philippines and untold stories about the Filipinos as a people. His passion may be likened to that of an insatiable booklover who can be totally lost in the pages of a good novel. "It’s something like an armchair adventure... a substitute for real travel. It challenges your mind to go beyond what you see," he told BusinessWorld one afternoon as he shared his passion for map collection.

Experts say most map collectors have a theme for their collections. Some might be interested in exploration, others in highly decorative maps, others still in those related to certain events such as the Civil War.
Mr. Lotilla, for his part, is interested in Philippine maps and charts that reveal something about the country and its history.

Other people collect examples of many cartographers or a single cartographer but Mr. Lotilla said this isn’t his style.
"My collection has a function. I don’t just collect," he said.

One piece in his valued collection is a sea chart of anchorages and ports in Mindanao. About this particular piece, which dates back to 1870, Mr. Lotilla raves about the different islands of Zamboanga del Norte.

Some of these rare cartographic treasures fill Mr. Lotilla’s office at the Department of Energy inside Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. Unlike the walls of other executive offices, Mr. Lotilla’s are not covered with paintings or photographs, but with navigational charts, maps and sea charts that are all framed and preserved elegantly.

And somewhere beneath his stack of energy-related documents, oil exploration contracts and confidential memoranda, one can find rolls of antique maps, sea charts and even the modern plastic-covered maps used in schools today.
Mr. Lotilla refuses to reveal how much he spends on acquiring maps or the value of his cartographic pieces. He simply says that maps can range from as low as "three dollars to a thousand dollars."

Experts say a host of factors can affect the value of a map. There are more collectors of maps of some regions than others, affecting the size of the market and thus the value of maps of those areas. World maps, for instance, have a universal appeal. Some areas that have small populations but that are vacation destinations such as Bermuda, Malta and some of the islands of the West Indies are popular.

The value of maps is also affected by their historical importance. Other maps might depict an important battle or similar event. Generally, the closer such maps date to the event, the more importance and thus value they have.

More importantly, it is how rare a map is that makes it more valuable.

For Mr. Lotilla, the value of a map also depends on what it means to the collector. "How much value you put on a map really depends on that personal link you have with it," says Mr. Lotilla.

As he says this, he carefully unfolds a discolored piece of old paper. He is careful not to ruin it or to leave even slight marks on the sepia-colored piece.

"It is a sketch of my hometown that goes back to 1850," he said, pointing to the possible location of the ancestral house of the Lotilla family in Sibalom, Antique. He never knew this piece existed until a cousin found it among his great-grandfather’s belongings. It is a hand-drawn sketch, with the dark blue ink still very distinct.

As such, he said, maps can be as interesting as a sketch.

"I mean, who knows how your hometown must have looked like before?"

Mr. Lotilla then showcases an old folding map made of linen material, which he bought in San Sebastian, Spain.
And to find out who really has a claim on the much-disputed Spratly Islands, one only needs to look at Mr. Lotilla’s maps which may provide answers to age-old questions that have brought countries close to war. Mr. Lotilla dismisses this observation in jest but agrees that there may be no territorial disputes if only people would look back to the past.
The Spratly Islands, which are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potentially by gas and oil deposits, are claimed in their entirety by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, while portions are claimed by Malaysia and the Philippines.
"If only people would look back... There’s a wealth of knowledge in maps which you can actually use to look to the future," Mr. Lotilla said. "All of these studies show and reinforce that the Philippines has an undeniable entitlement to the seabed in these areas," he added.

Mr. Lotilla started collecting maps in the 1980s when he taught law at the University of the Philippines (UP).
Life as a law professor, he said, stirred his interest in maps and charts because of the legal interests that go with it.
He served as vice-president for Public Affairs of UP in 1991 and as Director of the Institute of International Legal Studies of the UP Law Center from 1989 to 1996. He was appointed Professor of Law in 1995.
Mr. Lotilla has always been interested in history. He holds undergraduate degrees in Psychology and History.

He joined the government in 1996 as deputy director-general of the National Economic Development Authority.
He then headed the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. before being appointed as the country’s Secretary of Energy.

All through these jobs, Mr. Lotilla was passionately collecting maps and charts.

"When I deliver a paper abroad, I make it a point to try to look for maps," he said.
Still, he refuses to consider himself a collector.

"I don’t have a treasure chest of maps. What I can say is that my focus is on the Philippines and the South China Sea," he said.
And from years of collecting these cartographic treasures, Mr. Lotilla has discovered that in the past, people were more concerned with passages and navigation and not with who owned which islands.
"I collect in pursuit of something real, which is to understand things about the Philippines," he said.

Does it relax him just as much as reading a good book relaxes a booklover?

Mr. Lotilla finds it difficult to explain the high he gets while studying maps. What’s clear, he said, is that it challenges him to think about the past and the future, about what could have been and what might be; about what is the truth and what is perceived to be the truth.

"A sea chart or map represents a congruence of science and mathematics... Seacharts are unique that they have latitude and longitude... On the other hand, you also have the aesthetic part of it...There are things to discover," he said.

Of greater value to him is the geopolitical significance.

"What is important is to understand Filipinos as an archipelagic people. It explains the kind of values that we have... It defines many of our problems and provides many of the solutions for this country," he said.

All told, Mr. Lotilla’s map collection is his source of mental challenge when he is not busy cracking his brains thinking about the country’s energy needs. It is a kind of mind game that gives him a high.

It is thus no surprise that despite his difficult job as energy chief, Mr. Lotilla always looks relaxed and cool.

One only needs to look at the walls of his office to realize that he can readily, albeit momentarily, take a respite from the stress of his job, embarking on a journey that will bring him to another place, at another time.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ang Mga Nawawala by Jose F. Lacaba

Isang araw sila’y
nawala na lang at sukat.
May hindi pumasok sa opisina,
hindi sumipot sa apoyntment,
nang-indiyan ng kadeyt.
May hindi umuwi ng bahayat
hindi nakasalong pamilya sa hapunan,
hindi nakasiping ng kabiyak.
Ang inihaing ulam ay ligalig,
at ang inilatag na banigay ayaw dalawin ng antok.
Nang hanapin sila’ywalang masabiang kamag-anak at kaibigan,
walang ulat ang pulisya,walang malay ang militar.
Kung mayroon mang nakakitanang sila’y sunggabanng
malalaking lalakiat isakay sa dyip o kotse,
pabulong-bulong ang saksi,
at kung pakikiusapangtumestigo sa korte,
baka ito’y tumanggi.
Pagkaraan ng ilang araw,
o linggo, o buwan, o taon, pagkaraan ng maraming
maghapon at magdamag,
pagkaraang ang agam-agamay magparoo’t paritosa
mga manhid na pasilyoat ang pag-aasam-asamay
mapanis sa mga tanggapan,
pagkaraan ng luha’t tiyaga,
ang ilan sa kanila’ymuling lumitaw.
Lumitaw silasa bilangguan, sa bartolina,
sa kubling bahay na imbakanng ungol,
tili at panaghoy, himpilan ng mga
berdugongeksperto sa sanlibo’t isangistilo ng pagpapahirap.
Lumitaw silangbali ang buto o sira ang bait.
O kaya’y lumitaw silanglumulutang sa mabahong ilog,
o nakahandusay sa pampang,
o umaalingasawsa mga libingang mababawna hinukay ng mga asong gala.
Lumitaw silangmay gapos ang kamay at paana wala nang pintig,
o watak-watak ang kamay, paa, ulo, o tadtad ng butas ang bangkay,
likha ng bala o balaraw.
Ang iba’y hindi na lumitaw,hindi na kailanman lumitaw,
nawala na lang at sukat,walang labí, walang bangkay,
hindi malaman kungbuhay o patay,
hindi mapaghanduganng lamayan, pasiyam, luksa,
hindi maipagbabang-luksa,hindi maipagtirik ng
kandilakung Todos los Santos.
Nakaposas pa ba silasa paa ng kinakalawang na
kamasa loob ng kuwartong may tanod,
busog sa bugbog,
binabagabag ng bangungot,
sumisipol kung nag-iisang “Saan Ka Man Naroroon,”
iniisip kung ano ang iniisipng magulang at anak,
kasintahan o kabiyak?
O sila ba’yumayaw na sa pakikibakaat nagbalik
sa dating buhay,o nagtaksil sa simulainat nagtatago
sa takot,o nag-asawang muliat nangibang-bayan,
o tinamaan ng amnisyaat lalaboy-laboy sa lansangan,
o lihim na namundokat nag-iba ng pangalan?
O sila ba’y pinagpapasasaan na ng uod?
Nag-ugat na ba ang talahibsa mga mata ng kanilang bungo?
Bahagi na ba silang kanilang lupang tinubuan,
ang lupang kanilang ipinaglaban?
Sinusulat ko itopara sa mga kakilalang hanggang ngayon
ay nawawala,para kina
Charlie del Rosario
at Caloy Tayagat
Manny Yapat
Henry Romero
at Jun Flores,
at Rudy Romano
sila na kahit hindi ko
nakilala nang husto ay alam kong naglingkod
sa api at hikahos.
Buhay man sila o patay,sa aking alaala’y mananatili silang buhay.

Monday, June 4, 2007

How to Climb Mountains

By Paulo Coehlo

Choose the mountain you want to climb: don’t pay attention to what other people say, such as “that one’s more beautiful” or “this one’s easier”. You’ll be spending lots of energy and enthusiasm to reach your objective, so you’re the only one responsible and you should be sure of what you’re doing.

Know how to get close to it: mountains are often seen from far off – beautiful, interesting, full of challenges. But what happens when we try to draw closer? Roads run all around them, flowers grow between you and your objective, what seemed so clear on the map is tough in real life. So try all the paths and all the tracks until eventually one day you’re standing in front of the top that you yearn to reach.

Learn from someone who has already been up there: no matter how unique you feel, there is always someone who has had the same dream before you and ended up leaving marks that can make your journey easier; places to hang the rope, trails, broken branches to make the walking easier. The climb is yours, so is the responsibility, but don’t forget that the experience of others can help a lot.

When seen up close, dangers are controllable: when you begin to climb the mountain of your dreams, pay attention to the surroundings. There are cliffs, of course. There are almost imperceptible cracks in the mountain rock. There are stones so polished by storms that they have become as slippery as ice. But if you know where you are placing each footstep, you will notice the traps and how to get around them.

The landscape changes, so enjoy it: of course, you have to have an objective in mind – to reach the top. But as you are going up, more things can be seen, and it’s no bother to stop now and again and enjoy the panorama around you. At every meter conquered, you can see a little further, so use this to discover things that you still had not noticed.

Respect your body: you can only climb a mountain if you give your body the attention it deserves. You have all the time that life grants you, as long as you walk without demanding what can’t be granted. If you go too fast you will grow tired and give up half way there. If you go too slow, night will fall and you will be lost. Enjoy the scenery, take delight in the cool spring water and the fruit that nature generously offers you, but keep on walking.

Respect your soul: don’t keep repeating “I’m going to make it”. Your soul already knows that, what it needs is to use the long journey to be able to grow, stretch along the horizon, touch the sky. An obsession does not help you at all to reach your objective, and even ends up taking the pleasure out of the climb. But pay attention: also, don’t keep saying “it’s harder than I thought”, because that will make you lose your inner strength.

Be prepared to climb one kilometer more: the way up to the top of the mountain is always longer than you think. Don’t fool yourself, the moment will arrive when what seemed so near is still very far. But since you were prepared to go beyond, this is not really a problem.

Be happy when you reach the top: cry, clap your hands, shout to the four winds that you did it, let the wind - the wind is always blowing up there - purify your mind, refresh your tired and sweaty feet, open your eyes, clean the dust from your heart. It feels so good, what was just a dream before, a distant vision, is now part of your life, you did it!

Make a promise: now that you have discovered a force that you were not even aware of, tell yourself that from now on you will use this force for the rest of your days. Preferably, also promise to discover another mountain, and set off on another adventure.

Tell your story: yes, tell your story! Give your example. Tell everyone that it’s possible, and other people will then have the courage to face their own mountains.

Monday, May 21, 2007

going back to work

Although sleep-deprived, I found my two months of maternity leave as one of the most colorful and adventure-filled time of my life. There is no greater joy than to spend each waking moment with one's offspring, to see her grow each day, to clean her poopoos, to feed her, to soothe her to sleep, to hold her in one's arms and to see her smile.

I will soon be going back to work, back to the daily grind, to the recording of history, to the rewriting of life, to the nuisances, the smart and silly interviews and everything else that goes with the job. I hope I can still do it. I hope I can still write...Yes, I hope I haven't lost it.

In the meantime, let me share with you photos of me and my little angel.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sulat para kay Kuya Jay


Sana pinapabasa ka nila ng dyaryo.

Sana umabot sayo ang mensaheng ito.

Alam naming mahirap ang sitwasyon mo
ngayon. Alam din namin na nagaalala ka
sa pamilya. Ayos ang mag-ina. Matibay na
hinaharap ng mag-uutol ang sitwasyon. At
bibilib ka sa husay ni moms. Magu-gulat
ka sa dami ng suporta. Kasama ang mga
kaibigan, sama-sama naming hinaharap ang
struggle na to.

Naalala mo nung kinulong si erpats, di
natinag ang pamilya. Ngayon sa krisis na
hinaharap natin lalong di matitinag ang
pamilya. Huwag kang magalit na
kinukwento namin sa mga kaibigan ang
pagkain mo ng tutubi, ang pagiging
pasaway mo nung bata ka pa. Kasi
kailangan nila malaman na tao ka at di
hayop tulad ng ginawa ng mga dumukot sayo.

Gusto ko lang sabihin sa'yo na tibayan
mo ang loob mo. Tandaan mo na ang iyong
paniniwala at paninindigan ay para sa
nakakarami. Masmahusay at masmatapang ka
sa mga may hawak sayo. Mga duwag at
traydor ang dumukot sayo. Kung anuman
ang ginagawa sayo para balewalain ang
pagkatao mo ay alam mong mas tao ka
kaysa sa pinapamukha nila sayo. Tibayan
mo ang loob mo dahil nasa tama kang
paninindigan. Huwag na huwag kang
mag-aalala sa min. Ayos kami. At
pinagyayabang ka namin. Isa kang
mabuting tao at sinisigaw naming yan sa
buong mundo.

Konting tiis pa tol at magkakasama
nating titingnan ang pagsikat ng araw!

Para sa bayan!!! At para sa lahat ng
biktima ng paglabag ng karapatang pantao!!!


Si JL Burgos ay nakababatang kapatid ni
Jay-Jay at isa sa mga unang naging miyembro ng UGAT Lahi. Siya ay isang visual artist at video editor. Isa sa mga walang sawang nakikiisa, tumutulong at nakikibahagi sa pagsisimula ng tutoK karapatan.

Si jay-jay ay si Jonas Burgos. Anak ng yumaong Jose Burgos tagapagtatag ng We Forum at Malaya newspaper mga independenteng puklikasyon ng panahon ng diktaduryang Marcos. Pinaniniwalaang dinukot ng elemento ng militar nuong Abril 28 2007 sa Ever Gotesco Mall sa Commonwealth si Jonas.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

saan na ba makakabili ng yosi sa U.P.?

May mga gabi, kapag dinadalaw ako ng lungkot, umiikot ako sa UP. Malamig ang hangin kanina nang magmaneho ako sa campus. Tila sumama sa ihip ng sariwang hangin ang lungkot ng damdamin.

Madilim at tahimik ang campus kapag gabi at ito ang aking paraiso sa gitna ng ingay at gulo ng paligid.

Ngunit tulad ng maraming bagay, malaki na ang pinagbago ng UP. Marami na ang naglaho at nawala. Hindi ko na alam kung saan makakabili ng yosi sa UP. Nawala na ang mga maliliit na tindahan ng sigarilyo, softdrinks at Blue book. Nawala nadin ang mga estudyanteng naglalakad sa Sunken garden at naghuhuntahan hanggang abutan ng bukang-liwayway.

Iba na talaga ang UP ngayon. Hindi na ito katulad ng unibersidad na kinagisnan ko. Ang Peyups na nakilala ko ay maingay, masaya at puno ng pagasa.

Dito nahubog ang aking mga pangarap. Dito din ako natutong mag-drive, magsulat, mag-yosi at magmahal.

Dumaan ako sa Vinzon's Hall kagabi. Nakakabingi ang katahimikan. Hindi ito tulad ng dati. Naalala ko ang iba't ibang karanasan ko sa lugar na ito.

Doon sa ika-apat na palapag, sa opisina ng Kule nahubog ang pangarap kong maging dyarista.

Doon din sa Vinzon's Hall ko naranasan kung gaano kasakit maiwanan ng mahal sa buhay.

Sa Sunken Garden naman, naalala ko ang mga gabing kakwentuhan ang isang kaibigan at kadamay sa buhay hanggang sa pagsapit ng araw. Halos walang tao sa Sunken Garden kagabi nang dumaan ako pwera sa dalawang UP pulis na mahigpit na pinatutupad ang curfew.

Siya nga pala, may curfew na sa dating malayang campus.

Marami na nga ang nagbago sa Peyups kasabay ng paglipas ng panahon. Maraming bagay ang hindi na maibabalik. Maraming panahon ang hindi na mababalikan.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Julia in the Philippines

Stumbled upon the blog of Peace Corps volunteer Julia Campbell. Her entries are poignant, warm and heartfelt. Read her stories at Julia in the Philippines.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

taxes, taxes, taxes

There are a few things in life that are sure to come and the deadline for tax payment is one of them.

As always, I steeled myself to the BIR office last April 16 to pay for my bookshop's tax dues. I had to fall in line and wait along with so many others attempting to be good citizens. Admittedly, I don't really enjoy giving up part of my hard earned money to a government known more as corrupt than capable.

But I also hate bad roads and the high cost of healthcare in the country, among other inadequacies. As such, I always want to have the right to complain.

I hope the government does its part, too.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Dateline: St. Luke's Hospital

(A personal account of childbirth)

Friday, March 30.

I was alone at the Napocor press office. The rest of my colleagues were in Bangkok for a coverage. I couldn't come because I was on my 38th week of pregnancy.

Then it happened.

My water bag broke at around 7:30 p.m. I had just finished sending my stories for the day and I was just waiting for breaking news. I was already looking forward to a good night's rest. Little did I know that the moment I had been waiting for had come.

Suddenly, me seat was wet, as if I had just urinated but I did not. My leggings were wet all over. It was a sign of things to come.

Thirty minutes later, I was at the delivery room of St. Luke's Hospital. I was led to a small room where resident doctors started to check if my water bag had broken. If it did not, I would be allowed to go home.

But indeed, it had.

My labor had just begun.

I was brought to the labor room and it was then when, despite months of psyching myself for a laborious journey of childbirth, I felt scared. I felt like a child again, unfamiliar with the things around me. I was treading unfamiliar territory and there was nobody there but myself. Everybody else -- the doctors, interns, clerks and orderlies -- were strangers. It was my first time to give birth. I had no idea -- despite reading every recommended book about pregnancy -- just how it would happen.

This is it, I told myself. I was brought to my "labor bed," hooked on to a fetus monitor, a dextrose bag and so many other pins and hooks I could not quite understand.

Around 10 p.m., my cervix was 3 centimeters dilated. Stranger after stranger would check the innermost part of me every hour to see how my labor progressed. Nothing can compare to the discomfort, awkwardness, pain and embarrassment.

Two hours later, I was getting bored. I was the only patient in the labor room. The resident doctors, interns and clerks started to take cat naps. They made sure though that I had someone by my side monitoring the baby's heart rate and my contractions, round the clock.

I started interviewing the interns but they seem to be in no mood for small talk. Some were kind enough to answer a prying journalist's questions but most concentrated on my baby's fetal heart rate and my contractions.

I learned that resident doctors and interns are on duty for 36 hours. They're there on standby and they're the ones who update the patient's OBs or practitioners when it is time to go to the hospital.

My OB for instance, was updated every two hours through her mobile phone on the progress of my labor. That way, she would know just when she would rush to the hospital.

Saturday, March 31.

Around 3 a.m., I was startled from my sleep when a hysterical patient was rushed into the labor room. She was crying all her might. Her screams of pain must have reverberated in the whole hospital.

I would later learn that her cervix was already 9 centimeters dilated. She would be giving birth anytime. And she was in so much pain. She was banging her bed, pleading with the doctor to give her more anesthesia and crying the whole time.

"Doc, please, please, please!!!!," she was screaming on the top of her lungs. I felt sorry and scared.

I felt cold all over. I felt more scared than I already was.

She was rushed into the delivery room, which was right next to the labor room. And ten minutes later, I heard a different cry. It was the familiar, beautiful sound of a baby crying. She had just given birth.

I fell asleep. When I woke up, I saw my practitioner right beside me. It was 9 a.m., Saturday.

It felt good to see her. She said everything was ok. I just needed to prepare for a long labor because that's how it is. She instructed the resident doctors to monitor me well and to give me oxygen for me to make it to the night.

Seven hours later and after more than ten strangers have examined my cervix, I was informed that my labor was not progressing. No wonder I didn't feel any pain.

My doctor visited me again. It was already 3 p.m. She then instructed the residents to give me a medicine that would speed up my contractions. Otherwise, I would have to deliver my baby via Cesearian section. I pleaded with her that I didn't want that.

One hour later, I felt my first brush with labor pain. Tears started falling. I was biting my hand to ease the discomfort. The pain wouldn't stop. It only became worst. At this point, I was calling on the dead to help me go through my journey. I called on my dead grandfather and some dead journalists. I whispered prayers to the different saints.

Two hours later, my cervix was 4 centimeters dilated. I was now officially in active labor. And the pain was nothing I had experienced before. I thought of my mother and wondered how painful it was when she gave birth to me.

I was crying on and on but silently, saving the screams for later. The pain progressed along with my labor.

At 5 centimeters, I cried louder. The resident doctor, Dr. Ivy looked at me with so much sympathy.

"Do you want me to sedate you?" she asked.

"No, doc, I can still take it," I said, feigning confidence. I simply didn't want to be asleep while I give birth.

At 6 centimeters, my screams probably reverberated along the whole stretch of E. Rodriguez Avenue. I don't know where I gathered the strength to shout. All I know is that I was screaming so loud.

The contractions were getting faster and the pain, worst. It's like when you have menstrual cramps except that the pain is so much worst.

A nurse came by my side and injected me with something. The world started spinning. Things turned black. The pain eased. Everything in front of me slowly disappeared. I seemed to have walked out of the labor room.

But then I was back. The doctors were instructing me to push the baby out.

"I-re! i-re! i-re! i-re pa!.....Good! I-re pa....yung walang sound na i-re! I-re pa," the people around me were saying.

"Seven centimeters....I-re ulit...Yung walang sound sabi eh!"

"Nine centimeters....I-re ulit....I-re pa. Yung ulo, yung ulo...malapit na...i-re pa," they said.

At this point, I was in such pain I never imagined was possible. But all I could think of was how to bring my baby out successfully. I was dead tired.

This was the last thing I remembered.

At 10:58 p.m., March 31, after 24 hours in labor, I gave birth via normal delivery to the 6 billionth plus plus world citizen. She is a 6.8-pound baby girl.

Her name is Isabel and she is the most beautiful thing I've seen my entire life.

(photos by Stella Arnaldo and Marie Gonzales)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

37th week

(This is personal)

I've successfully reached the 37th week of pregnancy. These days, all I ever want is for the moment to come. It's been a very, very long and arduous journey after all. People around me including my doctor are saying that I've had a relatively smooth pregnancy. I am thankful. But then again, I can't deny the difficulty. Nobody really knows for sure just how difficult it is. I've been talking to 'bump' that I'm ready for the pain and that he or she can come out anytime.

Sigh. I am tired.

I wake up in the middle of the night because 'bump' is moving in all directions. The heat is unbearable even if the aircon is running nearly 24 hours. My tummy is so itchy but I can't scratch it. I can't drive and I hate it. I get leg cramps during the most unexpected times and it really pisses me off. I can't have anything else on my body including caffeine, nicotine and all the other sanity-saving substances available in the market.

Boy, I can't even devour on chocolates when I want to. My body indeed has been taken over.

These may seem little things to others but you put them all together and you do get a really difficult ride. Did I mention the emotional roller-coaster ride just yet? Only a mother or a mother-to-be knows the 360-degrees emotional experience that goes along with pregnancy.


Yes there is a but...There is no greater experience than to be in this journey. I am privileged enough to be experiencing this despite my insanity, selfishness, dysfunctional emotions and undomesticated soul. I have no right to complain, really. Instead, I have so much to be thankful for. I read somewhere that pregnancy is a sign that the world should continue.

I do look forward to meeting my first child. I hope that he or she will come out anytime soon. And I know that the more difficult journey has yet to come. I expect motherhood to be a lifetime vocation with the difficulties far worse than what one can experience during nine months of pregnancy.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Monday, March 12, 2007


I had a talk last night with my favorite economic journalist and as usual, I learned a lot. I was working on a special report and he gave me invaluable tips, possible sources, possible angles to pursue and the different sides of the debate that I should work on.

It's always fun to learn from senior colleagues, who in turn, are so much willing to share. There is so much to learn from so many things. Each experience is a learning process. Every interview is a goldmine of information. Every story is a discovery.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Incest on the rise

This news broke my heart. To me, incest and sexual abuse are the worst things that can happen to children.

I still dream of a world free of these crimes because as Sydney Sheldon once said, we don't inherit the world from our parents, we borrow it from the children.

Incest on the rise with feminization of overseas labor
By Veronica Uy
Last updated 06:16pm (Mla time) 03/09/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- As more Filipino mothers leave for work abroad, incest between a daughter and the father who are left behind has become an emerging social problem, a non-government organization said Friday.

However, the Kanlungan Center said the scandalous nature of incest has kept the problem hidden despite its growing seriousness.

Loida Bernabe, program officer of Kanlungan's direct support and development program, acknowledged receiving only one call for help on an incest case but added she believes the problem is more common than believed.

“Nangyayari talaga ito dahil malayo sa pamilya at ang tingin sa mga anak ay pag-aari [It really happens because of the distance between spouses and because children are viewed as possessions],” she said.

She spoke of a runaway maid in Singapore who wrote to Kanlungan September last year about her 13-year-old daughter’s account of being raped by her father.

The mother said she had already asked a relative to take the girl away but worried about her nine-year-old daughter, who with her six-year-old son, remained with her husband.

Bernabe said she referred the case to the archdiocese in Mindanao to which the overseas Filipino worker’s (OFW) hometown belonged.

On Thursday, International Women's Day, Senator Pia Cayetano also called public attention to “an emerging problem in labor-exporting countries like the Philippines.”

The senator, who returned recently from New York where she represented the Philippine Senate at the 51st Session of the Commission for the Status of Women, noted that older daughters of women OFWs are made to take on the roles left by their mother, sometimes as “substitute spouses.”

"This disturbing phenomenon of the girl-child being turned into substitute spouse has been happening in our country along with the feminization of labor migration," said Cayetano, who noted that women now comprise 70 percent of Filipino workers deployed abroad.

“The problem remains largely unreported, however, due to its sensitive nature and mainly because of the fear of the girl-child to file a formal complaint against her own father which would bring severe stress and shame to her and her family," the senator said.

As a result, she said the abused daughter is forced to become an "adult" at an early age, depriving her of the opportunities and rights of being a child.

She described the phenomenon as one of the most damaging social impacts of labor migration, one that can never be measured by any of the government's socio-economic indicators or captured by statistics on labor export.

The international forum-session, entitled "A parliamentary perspective on discrimination and violence against the girl child," was jointly organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), of which Cayetano is first vice president of the Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians, and the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (UNDAW).

Cayetano presented the problem of incest among families left behind by OFWs at the forum-session, which stressed the need to push for national laws and policies to protect girls from violence and abuse.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A baby boom in Asia

BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- A baby boom is about to hit parts of Asia, as couples try to ensure their newborns get a happy, wealthy life by starting off in the Year of the Pig.

This Chinese lunar new year, which starts on February 18, is believed to be an especially auspicious "golden pig year" which only comes around every 60 years.

South Korea is going a step further, saying it's the best time in 600 years to have a baby due to an anomaly on the Chinese calendar. This pig year -- known as "red," the color of wealth -- follows a year with two days to mark the start of spring.

In China, where most families are allowed only one child, baby-related businesses are bracing for an influx of "piglets".

"The Year of the Pig will certainly be busy. There will be a lot of precious pigs born this year, because of the Chinese superstition that pig babies will have an easy life," said Tian Hua, who manages a nanny sourcing firm in Shanghai.

Tian's firm specializes in caring for mothers and infants during the first month after birth, when Chinese tradition holds that a woman should rest and eat special foods.

Her 200 nannies are booked through July, and the company has raised prices by up to 45 percent, she said. Hospitals in mainland China and Hong Kong are also heavily booked.

In South Korea, which has one of the world's lowest birth rates, the Year of the Pig could herald the bundles of joy that years of government incentives have failed to create.

South Korea has seen a recent rush of expectant mothers at maternity clinics, keen to have their babies after February 18.

Fortune teller Kang Pan-seok, however, says 2007 is not the super lucky event it's been hyped up to be.

"The government is selling people on the golden pig year in order to have more babies," said Kang, vice director of the Korean Fortune Tellers Association. Korean folklore scholars note that the last time this lunar combination occurred, it wasn't hyped as a spectacularly auspicious year to have children.

"This is just a red pig year, but I don't mind because I have been swamped with customers seeking advice." But the red or golden debate does not matter to South Korean companies, who are interested in the color of money.

Condom makers have said sales are down this year, while maternity clinics said patient visits are way up.

Leading pharmaceutical company Dong-A is trying to spur sales of its fertility drugs and offering a gold pig statue to the first couple who uses its medicine and conceives.

Retailer Shinsegae is rolling out a special swine-based marketing plan and is selling items such as piggy banks and golden pig charms to attach to mobile phones.

Shares in one of the country's biggest baby clothes makers, Agabang Co., have jumped by more than half since July last year, in anticipation of a baby rush.

South Korea has tried to raise its birth rate, where an average of 1.08 children are born per woman, by making family life more affordable. But the policies have done little to stem the graying of society, where the population will soon start sliding from current levels of around 49 million.

"We hope this golden pig year will bring more babies," said health ministry official Shin Min-sik, adding the government was trying increase births through policies, not the lunar calendar.
Day care center bookings are rapidly filling up, and newspapers have warned these babies will face tough competition in South Korea's already overheated education system.

But amid the gold pig rush, some people still have their feet on the ground. "Any time you have a baby, it is a lucky year," said one expectant mother.

(photo: sorority sisters at my batchmate Nikko's place on Chinese New Year's eve)

Thursday, February 1, 2007

out of town

BAGO CITY, Negros Occidental - It's my first out of town coverage in six months, pregnant and all.I made it past the airport security after successfully convincing the ground steward that I have been permitted to travel.

I, ofcourse forgot my doctor's certificate but made it to the plane after negotiating with the airline staff.

I'm here to cover President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo inuagurate the 49-megawatt North Negros Plant of PNOC-Energy Development Corp. (PNOC-EDC).

I'm fine so far although I felt really delirious on the plane that I even heard the pilot say we were going to land in Mindoro because of a turbulence. My colleagues insist the pilot never said such a thing. True enough, the flight was safe and sound.

I'm eating a lot of chicken and seafoods because the food here is soooh good I probably gained 5 pounds. I'm enjoying sweet mangoes, too.

I hated the slightly rough road trip to the plant, however, but "bump" seemed not to mind with enough music from the I-pod.

While writing our stories, a barrage of Presidential Security Guards escorted us out of the room because the president had to stay there to re-touch her make-up.

I would have sighed in frustration but the guards were kind to me and allowed me to stay though I was not allowed to touch my laptop.

I am now sending my stories to Manila and look forward to my flight back home tomorrow. Most of all, I look forward to another heavy dinner later and a good night's rest.

Monday, January 29, 2007


I had the honor of being chosen as a sponsor or ninang to a colleague's son last Sunday. It was my first time to really attend a baptism ceremony because in the past, I only learned later on that I was one of the sponsors.

It was a mass baptism and there were babies everywhere. It's very humanizing, amazing, genuinely wonderful but scary. Ninongs and ninangs were everywhere. Looking back now, I wonder where my ninongs and ninangs are. I haven't seen them except for one who has been there for me in good and bad times.

It's a big world out there. The babies I saw last Sunday would soon be making their individual journeys in this big and crazy universe. I hope they make it with their parents and godparents by their side. I hope I'd be the ninang that my godson would need.

Cheers to the all the babies of this world and those who are yet to come!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Day in Malacañang

The loud, piercing sound of the alarm clock mercilessly disturbed my usual journey somewhere between the ethereal and the unknown.

I kept turning it off, hoping against hope that time would freeze and allow me to continue on with my slumber. But it didn't. It was 6 a.m. and the roosters were crowing. I had no choice but to wake up or I would have to go to Malacañang by myself.

It was Wednesday and energy reporters including myself were invited to cover the signing of the Biofuels Act of 2006 at the Palace.

A van from the Department of Energy would pick us up somewhere in Quezon City at 8 a.m. and bring us to Malacañang in time for the 10 a.m. ceremony. Whoever misses the ride would have to go to Manila by himself.

And so, still half asleep, I steeled myself to prepare for the day's coverage. Such a hassle, I thought bitterly knowing that the law had actually been signed a week ago. The coverage was just a ceremonial signing or ironically, just a media event.

Two hours later, we were at the entrance for a thorough security check similar to what they have in airports. And there, the hassles became so much worst.

One colleague, who absent mindedly wore jeans that day, had been refused entry. There is a strict dress code in Malacañang as most in the industry know. He had to go home again to change.

Minutes later, a female colleague experienced the same thing. She had to rush to Quiapo to buy slacks.

Another colleague wearing proper attire, on the other hand, was not on the guest list and thus, had been refused entry too. Several calls later, she was able to resolve the problem.

It's not easy going to Malacañang but it is so much harder to get in.

I didn't have much of a problem except for the fact that in my haste, I wore my pants inside out. It was so embarrassing! Yes, believe it or not, the label on the back was sticking out for the world to see. Almost. Fortunately, I was wearing black leggings that day and a long top which concealed the problem.

By 12, after listening to officials rave about the Biofuels bill, watching government officials and businessmen praise President Arroyo and interviewing them for what they have to say, I felt exhausted.

A few minutes later, we were out of the hulking white building and back to the real world.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Science Solitaire

Remember those boring science classes? Those dreaded exams on biology, physics and chemistry? I was one of those who never really enjoyed listening to science lectures. Although I've always had an insatiable thirst to find out how the world works, I never considered science classes as the way to quench that thirst.

But for several nights now, I've been swept away into the magical world of science. The teacher is no less than science writer Maria Isabel Garcia and it took her less than 300 pages to make me truly interested in how science works and just how amazing it affects the journey towards being truly human.

Science Solitaire (Ateneo Press' Book of the Month for January) is a very interesting collection of essays on how the mind works, on the science of love, on religion, on what happens to our bodies when we are truly happy, on the awesome powers of the universe and on everything else that affects our journey here and beyond.

It's a mind dance that gives a fresh insight on science, allowing us to unlearn and rediscover the truths and the mistruths about the universe.

And it's funny, too.

In Eternity for Dummies, for instance, I had a good laugh after reading the piece last night.

Garcia writes: "You may get rid of your wrinkles, your love handles, stretch marks, or age spots but your cells do not care. They will age anyway at the same rate, regardless of how one looks. And unless one is a fruit fly, yeast, a worm, a mouse or a rhesus monkey--gene-twitching experiments on which seem to hold promise as far as slowing the age process is concerned--nothing, I repeat, nothing has yet been found to work on humans."

I read this piece rolling in laughter. It might have been addressed to people like me. That night, just before I picked up the book, I had already filled my face with anti-aging cream.

Monday, January 8, 2007

bucks or by-line?

There is an interesting dilemma that the so-called new journalism has brought upon print journalists.

I realized the past year that online journalism has rapidly changed the way reporters work in the beat. At least that's what I'm seeing in my own circle, the economics beat, particularly the energy sector.

Colleagues from other newspapers, who submit stories to online media outfits, have found themselves in a quandary: Should they submit stories to these Internet news sites and earn much-needed extra cash or submit stories exclusively to their newspapers? (As their respective companies require.)

Just last week, I have seen colleagues shocked by how fast their stories appear on the Internet. One male reporter who submits stories to a television news program was so shocked to see his article on the official website of that broadcast station.

Here's the thing. If they submit the stories to these Internet sites, they get extra cash but they run the risk of being outscooped by their very own articles. One male reporter complained that his editor used a story posted on the Internet (submitted by his colleague from the same beat) simply because that story was available way before the 5 p.m. deadline for print reporters.

At the very least, their very own newspaper editors can easily call their attention because of a story on the Internet.

The reason is clear. Internet sites (,,, among others) work fast, really fast.

A reporter may be at a press conference and depending on the website he's looking at, he may find the big story from that press event staring right at him as soon as he sits in front of the computer to work on his story.

For now, it's a balancing act for print journalists who dabble as stringers of other news agencies.

Nobody knows for sure what the future has in store for journalism. Print media may sooner or later be a thing of the past but I sure hope not.

One thing remains clear to me. At the end of the day, journalism will always be about stories. Real stories. Real people. Real events. It's about stories that make the world an interesting place to live in. And it's the reason that journalists--print, broadcast or online--stay in this crazy yet addicting vocation.