Day 15

Just three days to go and I got transferred to a new beat with Sir Marlon Ramos. We were assigned to the Port Area in Manila to cover the Bureau of Immigration (BI), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and the Bureau of Customs (BoC). This beat is smaller than the South Manila beat Sir Marlon formerly covered, but it is a lot busier. In my experience, it is even more difficult to cover because we deal with government agencies and all their banes.

Getting acquainted with the new beat is the most difficult of all. I had to adjust even my travel time, route and budget in order to reach the press office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on time. The press office was geographically closer than Camp Bicutan, but it took longer to get there because of the heavy traffic in Manila.

Seriously, that city has the worst traffic problem I have ever experienced. The air is also polluted and the surrounding’s gloomy. I can imagine what tourists think of the Philippines when they find out that Manila is our capital. Commuting there from Quezon City drained my energy. Upon reaching CBCP I felt like a used rug ready to be thrown out.

The CBCP press office is thrice the size of Makati City’s press room. There are tables everywhere and computer units lined one corner. The two air conditioners turn the room frigid even in the heat of noon. There are more journalists in CBCP than in Makati but they are mostly from print. Both the Philippine Star and the Philippine Daily Inquirer even have two reporters in the same beat.

The people were snobbish and less warm than in Makati, except for one Star reporter. It was a shame I didn’t get her name. Anyway, she was very accommodating and motherly. Whenever Sir Marlon’s out, she would teach me a thing or two about journalism. She was the female version of Sir Mike Frejalde (I don’t think I got the surname right), the Star reporter who doubled as my mentor in Makati.

The reporter from Star also covered the same beat except for COMELEC and DOH. Whenever a press release was faxed she would announce it to the people in the room to call the attention of the reporters concerned. Once or twice, we wrote the same story based on a PR from the BoC. Like in the police beat, Customs had staple stories of smuggling, deportation, trafficking and the like. Unlike in police, however, the BoC beat was stricter, with every story being decided upon by the press officer of the bureau. The reporter from Star said such set up was necessary owing to the sensitivity of the people involved in the stories—foreigners.

However, I don’t totally agree with the set up. Media should be the gatekeepers not the press officers of the government. If that is the case, then journalists become simply tools or extensions of the press office of departments, offices and bureaus. The independence is lost. At the same time the gate-keeping function is compromised. Media need to decide which news to release based on the stories’ merits not on the dictates of the people who provide them. Media owe their very existence and essence to the people, not the government.

Of course I only had these in my mind. I could not lecture them about journalism right there and then, but I honestly think they should consider these thoughts. The very foundation of the profession is at risk.

I wrote two stories today. The first one was about the launching of a green campaign for the upcoming elections and the second was about the forfeiture proceedings of smuggled goods in the BoC.

I chanced upon my first story while searching for the CBCP. When I saw a small gathering outside the COMELEC building in Intramuros , I went to investigate and I saw the 2009 Miss Philippines-Earth, At the back of my mind I thought, “This is newsworthy.” As I listened to their speeches and looked for people to interview, I slowly formed the story in my head. I even took pictures of the event just so I can have souvenir of the rare encounter.

The PR officer also gave out press releases for the media people covering the event. Included in the kit were statements from the organizers and the beauty queens, and a 10-point guideline on greener campaigns and sorties. The guideline was created by the EcoWaste Coalition, a pro-environment group pushing for earth-friendly elections.

I showed Sir Marlon my notes the other materials I got from the launching. He gave me the thumbs up so I wrote the story. It was relatively easier for me now to write news stories after 15 days of internship. After about an hour, I turned in my work and Sir Marlon edited it. He said the story’s okay with minor editing.

After finishing the story, my reporter-partner gave me a second story to write. The story was about the start of the forfeiture proceedings of P73 million worth of fake cellular phones intercepted by the BoC. Nokia also confirmed that the phones were imitations from China though they bear the company’s logo and name. With this, the owners of the cargo were also charged with copyright infringement.

Writing the Customs story was more difficult than the EcoWaste story because of the jargons of the trade. I had to research the meaning of certain terms so that I could understand the story better. The task became easier also with the help of the kind Star reporter.
That’s it for now. I’ll add more tomorrow.
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