There is nothing in the world more fluid than the news. Today’s PDAF scam headline could be cradling my dog’s poo at the bottom of his cage tomorrow. I’m not the first reporter who is thankful that stories expire at a (nearly) daily rate. We rarely take our stories home – especially when the day’s coverage was a politician talking my ear off with lies, or a policeman trying to convince me not to do the story because the suspect is “bata ni mayor.”
Then there are the stories you don’t want to leave behind.
Every day, my mind drifts back to the shoot for Gintong Krudo (Golden Crude Oil), our Brigada documentary about children who swim in the most polluted waters of Manila Bay to collect crude oil refuse from boats. I remember playful 11-year old Christian, one of the batang krudos, screaming “Ate Mica!” — grabbing my hand and laughing while he led me to the boat. I recall the questioning look in Christian’s eyes as he asked me: “Dito ka ulit bukas, Ate Mica?” (Will you still be here tomorrow?)
I didn’t have the strength to say “no, I wouldn’t be there tomorrow” because that was our last shooting day.
Some people in media have started hating on me because of all the awards Gintong Krudo has received. They ask why they weren’t given the same kind of stories where they can presumably “shine.” I genuinely wonder what they’re so jealous about. True, I’m honored by the international recognition and pleased with the doors it has opened, including the chance for me to go to places I never imagined I could visit.
But with every place I’ve gone to after that documentary, I think of all the places the batang krudos have NOT gone to after that documentary – mainly, how they’re still pretty much in the same place we left them.
These children are still on my mind. I sent a message to a public official asking if something has been done about the plight of the batang krudos, only to receive the answer that they haven’t even heard about the issue. They haven’t heard about something happening near their City Hall. It’s not even half a kilometer away. With every award, I die a little inside, remembering how the documentary is progressing but the social issue is not.
Nobody should want to feel that. So I’m starting to question the motivations of other media practitioners who want the attention I’ve received. I do immersion stories not because I want to be seen on TV doing the shocking stuff, or para sumikat. I do them because I do not want to write my stories from the sidelines with nothing but my preconceived biases and middle-class upbringing.
I immerse because I want to write from a place of understanding and empathy. I immerse because – let’s face it – a reporter is not above the people but is one of and from the people (albeit with the extra responsibility of documenting and sharing their story).
The sad thing about immersion stories, however, is that you get so invested that you almost feel a part of you being torn away when you have to leave. Masakit. Masakit hanggang ngayon.
We follow up with the story as much as we can. But really, how productive can reporting the same issue be when it falls on deaf ears? Deep down, you know it’s not just the reporters who leave the stories behind but also the viewers.
I don’t know if it was through a personal conversation or through something I read, but I remember my idol and mentor Kara David saying she started the Project Malasakit foundation because of frustration over what would happen – or rather, not happen – to the subjects of her stories after she left.
Covering was no longer enough; she needed follow-through. Starting foundations is a terrifyingly growing trend among journalists, showing that the change we want to happen through our stories is apparently in short supply.
While I admire the work they do, foundations are and will never be enough for me. I know that I can never give away enough bags of school supplies, grocery items and relief goods to fill the growing void in our country. There’s also the fact that through small scale efforts, we’re somewhat sending this message not just to the state, but also to the public: “It’s ok, we’ve got this handled right now. Mamaya na lang ang gobyerno.” (The government can wait).
Sure, I can feed one family right now. Meanwhile, the family next door will be dying of starvation. We need to save everyone, and that requires systemic change.
Through our Balon ng Ginto (Well of Gold) documentary in Brigada, I saw firsthand that in terms of gold and other natural resources, ours is literally one of the richest countries in the Pacific. Conversely, through several years of covering the opening of classes in June, I also saw firsthand that we never have “enough” money to buy chairs for every student in public elementary schools.
Quality education and health care in our country are still only for the highest bidder. Meanwhile, a “poorer” country gives free education up to the doctorate level and will also treat your sickness for free. Or fly you abroad for treatment at the government’s expense.
Kids like Christian, Ruben and Bisaya deserve more than taking their chance at a good life through the oil and trash-filled waters of Manila Bay. They deserve more than to just have their story told.
This is the first I’ve written about my frustration over a coverage. I have never written about Yolanda. I tried and it was just too painful.
I am haunted not by my personal ordeal but by the memory of what the locals went through: what many of them are still going through because of someone, everyone’s inadequacy to get things together. I’m also bothered by the idea that after going through the worst storm the world has ever seen, we’re still not quite prepared for the next big one.
There’s a reason why the tagline is “Katotohanan ang MAGPAPALAYA sa bayan” and not “Katotohanan ang NAGPALAYA sa bayan.” We’re not there yet. Far from it.
So many things in our country are restricting our freedom to learn, speak, think and even simply live. It’s why the mere idea of Independence Day makes me sick. I wish I could end this essay with a lesson, a high-and-mighty statement about the true place of a journalist in this world. But to tell you the truth, I’m only 24 years old. Mostly, I just know I’m young, hardworking, and frustrated. I’m still trying to figure it out myself.
All I can do right now is to keep doing my job the best way I know how – until that day when not one, but every single Filipino will get enough of the news to do more than just get shocked and then switch the channel to basketball.
[Entry 20, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Micaela Papa is a senior correspondent for GMA News. At a young age, she has received numerous awards for her Brigada documentary Gintong Krudo. She was also in Palo, Leyte during the first day of typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). The Manila headquarters could not establish contact with their team for the first 24 hours after the storm. Thankfully, they survived. This article was also published on GMA News Online.