Published on June 2, 2015.
IT IS an imposing sight. The massive balete tree in Maria Aurora town, in Aurora province, is about as tall as a 15-story building and at its base is as wide as a three- or four-bedroom house. Tourists visit it by the busload, drawn by a simple superlative: It is known as the largest balete tree in Asia.
There is some slip-sliding, sometimes, and local guides also call it the oldest—but that title probably goes to the balete tree in Canlaon City, in Negros Oriental, which has an estimated age of 1,300 years, or more than twice as old. (I have not yet been to Canlaon myself.) But the tree in Maria Aurora is an extraordinary sight; first there is its sheer size; then there are the thousands of hanging roots that have descended (the tree starts as an air plant) to form an incredibly dense curtain right around it; and then there is the gap, just big enough to accommodate a crouching adult human, in the middle of the tree.
It takes only a couple of minutes to walk through the tree. The roots inside have been smoothened over the years, from contact with tourists’ suddenly helpless hands and wayward limbs, but being inside the tree, and looking up from within its hollow core at a hall of roots, is an eerie, unforgettable experience. Continue reading
Published on May 12, 2015.
LAST WEEK, “the present and past deans” of the UP College of Mass Communication issued “Fact or Fiction?” a strongly worded statement expressing “its [sic] grave concern over the highly unprofessional coverage of the Mary Jane Veloso story by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.” In particular, the deans (only four of them, not all of those who have served in the position, as the definite article seems to imply) criticized the Inquirer for the reports it carried in two issues: those of April 29 and 30.
There is no quarrel, I have no argument, with the first point of criticism. (And please allow me to be clear: What follows is my personal opinion, not the position of the newspaper that has been home to me for almost 15 years.)
“In its April 29 headline and story (‘Death came before dawn’), the PDI quite dramatically announced the execution of Mary Jane Veloso in Indonesia, an execution which it turns out never actually happened because Veloso was given temporary reprieve.” This was a major error, one compounded by the melodramatic and meme-friendly phrasing of the headline. The newspaper apologized for the error twice, first on Wednesday mid-afternoon through a statement circulated on other Inquirer platforms, and then on the front page of the newspaper on Thursday. The apology came with a resolve to do better: “We are revamping newsroom processes to better inform and serve our readers and stakeholders.” Continue reading
The third edition of the March 14, 2013 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer–which went to press past three in the morning.
Published on July 31, 2012.
President Aquino is wrong to think that the fundamental nature of news has changed. But he is entirely in the right when he calls journalists to account according to journalism’s own standards. Unless, of course, journalists think those standards are only meant to be paid lip service.
“Negativity” in the news—the word the President used in his remarks at BusinessWorld’s 25th anniversary rites last Friday—has become the shorthand defining what an ABS-CBN story online would later call his “scolding spree” against the media, even though the real controversy erupted only after the President directly criticized ABS-CBN anchor Noli de Castro at the 25th anniversary party of the iconic “TV Patrol” newscast, later that same Friday. Continue reading
My first column after a year away; I pay tribute to an excellent editor, both friend and mentor. Published on July 10, 2012.
A good number of names in almost any survey of the country’s most influential opinion columnists make their home in the Inquirer’s opinion pages. Some of these columnists have the advantage, not only of lucid analysis or illuminating prose, but of careers in television: I think, for example, of Randy David or Solita Monsod. Others equally gifted have become popular despite what may best be described as indifference to regular TV appearances: You have, for instance, someone like Conrad de Quiros or Michael Tan. Still others of similar talent become must-reads because they bear almost the entire weight of their profession on their shoulders: Consider Fr. Joaquin Bernas (law), or Ambeth Ocampo (history), or Amando Doronila (journalism).
It is an easy thing for me to suggest these and other names from the Inquirer’s opinion pages, but the fact that I can also suggests something characteristic about the pages themselves. As the print (and, since about a decade and a half ago, also digital) equivalent of the public square, these pages have managed to attract some of the most powerful soapboxes of the last quarter-century. Continue reading
This piece on the hostage-taking tragedy in Luneta was published on August 31, 2010.
Imagine, for a moment, that criticism of media coverage of the Aug. 23 tragedy extended to the whereabouts of network CEOs on that fateful day. In reflecting on the work of the ABS-CBN news organization, for instance, people would then demand to know, “Where the hell was Gabby Lopez?” And however Lopez (or Felipe Gozon of GMA, or Manny Pangilinan of TV5) would choose to answer, perhaps by talking about operational responsibility, or the division of labor that allows a news and entertainment enterprise to do its work, or the daily reality of editorial independence, the answer would always come across as so much defensive posturing.
This absurd, where-is-the-network-CEO scenario is, of course, meant to provoke reflection on the assumption, held by many Filipinos, that President Benigno Aquino III should have been “present” (either physically or through sheer force of character) during the developing crisis. Both Conrad de Quiros and Jarius Bondoc have already answered in the negative. I share their view, but I am more interested in the fact that it was a common assumption. Common, but still erroneous. Continue reading
Published on April 13, 2010.
It was a real privilege to serve as a resource person at a roundtable conference organized by the National Academy of Science and Technology last week. I hope to set aside some space sometime soon to discuss the provocative insights of eminent economist Emmanuel de Dios, the other guest speaker; for now, allow me to acknowledge the stimulating company of National Scientists Gelia Castillo, Mercedes Concepcion and Teodulo Topacio Jr., as well as (ceteris paribus!) of Deans De Dios and Raul Fabella of the UP School of Economics. Continue reading
Published on March 23, 2010. After this came out in the newspaper, a friend asked me online: Are you still friends with Caloy (Conde, the NYT’s Philippine correspondent)? My answer, then as now, almost four months later, is the same: Why ever not? We both believe in robust public discourse.
My apologies, in advance. The column title above is a shameless attempt at a rhetorical stunt: to show a form of the so-called media filter at work.
Headlines, you see, are an information-compression device. A headline packs an entire story, or more, into a few words. But who was it who said that to summarize was to betray? Sometimes a headline, or a column or a report, or even an entire series, can betray the truth itself, by giving a distorted picture of the subject of the coverage or commentary. A reader who has time to read only today’s column title may likely end up with a distorted picture of the column’s thesis or of the column itself. Continue reading
I did not realize, before I wrote this particular column, that I would be asked later in the week to write “teasers” about the debate for the front page. if I had known, perhaps I would have decided differently. Published on February 2, 2010.
Allow me to write about the sense of growing excitement shared by the many people working behind “Inquirer 1st Edition: The Presidential Debate.” Since Friday, hundreds of Philippine Daily Inquirer and INQUIRER.net readers have been submitting to the newspaper the questions they would like posed before the candidates. On Monday, campaign staff representing eight presidential candidacies were formally briefed on the process flow and logistics of the candidates’ forum. (A ninth was invited but could not make it.) And on Wednesday and on three other occasions this week, various panelists will meet to practice for the event, which takes place on Monday, Feb. 8, at the University of the Philippines. Continue reading
After studiously avoiding the Inquirer for several years, President Arroyo visited the newspaper again on February 2. As was her preference, and our custom, she brought dinner too. In the beginning, she was seated between Sandy P. Romualdez and Marixi R. Prieto, president and board chair respectively, but over the course of the 90-minute dinner Sandy gave up her seat for Letty J. Magsanoc, the editor in chief, and MRP (as she is known in the newspaper) insisted on offering her seat to Joey D. Nolasco, the managing editor. Hence, this shot. Note the improvised nameplate for Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, who sat to my left. He said he happened to be working overtime at the Palace, when the President saw him and asked him to join her for dinner at the Inquirer. (He didn’t seem put out, and indeed proved to be an engaging dinner companion.) To my right sat the formidable Medy Poblador, now accoutered with the rank of cabinet secretary. At the start, Sandy welcomed the President, and said she understood the terms of the discussion to be “no-holds-barred but off the record.” GMA immediately cut in, eyebrows raised: “I didn’t say no-holds-barred!” That night, we kept it light.
The second part. (Second installment courtesy of YouTube, that is.)
First part of the 2006 Inquirer documentary I helped with.