INSI’s Red Batario reports from Tacloban, Leyte
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Three weeks after Typhoon Haiyan devastated this city of 221,000 and several other provinces across the Philippines, local journalists are still struggling to piece their lives back together as they continue to cover the biggest disaster story in the country’s recent memory – and now they too have become part of the story.
At the time of writing, four journalists have been confirmed dead and four others remain unaccounted for since the typhoon – and those numbers could still rise. Survivors say it is extremely difficult to determine the exact number of journalists still missing.
Broadcaster Ronald Vinas and technician Allan Medino, both of DYVL Aksyon Radyo, and reporters Archie Glovio and Malou Realino of DYBR-Tacloban were killed while reporting the advance of the typhoon. Both radio stations were swept away by the storm surge along with many other buildings in the city. Estimates by Tacloban City-based journalists and those from Samar Island put the number of displaced media staff at more than 50.
Imelda Q. Magbutay, station manager and program host of CMM TV Channel 28, who survived the deluge but lost her TV station and apartment, said many reporters and radio broadcasters chose to remain at their posts “because people were relying on the media for typhoon updates.”
Visibly traumatised by the experience, she haltingly described how she scraped together personal funds and loans from friends and her sister to put up the Community Mass Media (CMM) TV channel last February 2013 only to see her dream disappear in less than an hour.
Another broadcaster from radio station DIWA, Jazmin Bonifacio, who had been reported missing earlier, volunteered to stay on at work on beyond her 6 a.m. sign-off because a colleague who was supposed to come in for the day shift could no longer leave her house due to fierce winds.
“When I peeked outside, our station vehicle was being spun by the wind so I decided to just stay put and hunkered down. But then the water came in, smashing down the door. It was so fast, I really thought I was going to die,” she said.
Ricky Bautista, who works for the Samar Weekly newspaper, was filing a report from his house in Basey, Samar when its roof was torn off. As the walls of the concrete structure began crumbling, Bautista hustled his family members to the second floor of a nearby building where they weathered the typhoon, soaked but alive.
Marlon Tano, correspondent for The Freeman newspaper and IBC TV 6, had fled with his wife and two young daughters the night before the storm broke to a two-storey building near the provincial capital thinking the concrete structure would be safe. The storm surge smashed down doors and windows and in a matter of minutes Tano and his family found themselves clinging to the rafters after he punched a hole through the ceiling.
Theirs are not the only stories. Journalists continued to report across the Philippines, literally in the eye of the storm and seemingly oblivious to their own safety. Those who survived said they all thought their workplaces in concrete buildings were strong enough to protect them, but sometimes they weren’t. In one instance, several family members sheltered inside a radio station. It was destroyed by the storm surge and those who took refuge in the station are still missing.
During an emergency response and assessment mission in Leyte and Samar undertaken from November 17 to 24 by the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (PECOJON) Philippines, in partnership with the Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD), Disaster Risk Reduction Network-Philippines (DRRNet-Phils) and the International News Safety Institute (INSI), representatives met with surviving journalists, identified their priority needs, and provided emergency cash assistance and temporary work assignments for some as stringers, fixers, or guides for international news agencies.
The journalists interviewed by the mission also said that they followed emergency and safety protocols based on warnings and advisories from the government but they didn’t expect the whole city would be devastated.
The mission noted that most of the journalists were exhibiting unmistakable signs of trauma and would often retell their experience over and over. Magbutay of CMM TV would break into tears in the middle of a conversation. She said she worries about her staff who have lost their homes and livelihoods.
It might take some time to rebuild news media outlets, many of which are privately owned. The building and printing equipment, for example, of the Leyte-Samar Daily Express (LSDE) was completely destroyed. It is owned by local publisher Dalmacio Grafil who was rushed to Manila because of severe injuries.
Although the mission has provided some journalists with temporary employment as fixers or guides for international news agencies, or as field researchers on disaster preparedness, many more need some form of livelihood to keep them and their families alive – but all hope it is something related to journalism and media.
Red Batario is INSI’s Southeast Asia Coordinator
The mission is exploring the possibility of setting up some sort of temporary relocation site or media village with tents and sanitation facilities in Tacloban City for the displaced newsmen and women where they and their families can stay and set up reporting operations.
Other priority equipment needed for reporting are:
• Generator sets
• Portable broadcast equipment
• Laptop computers
• Cellular phones
The mission is currently working on raising funds for both short and long term recovery programs for the community journalists and media outlets in Leyte and Samar. It is also appealing for cash donations that can be sent directly to PECOJON which is taking the lead in accepting and monitoring cash donations.
Account Name: PECOJON-The Peace and Conflict Journalism Network Philippines, Inc.
Savings Account Number: 00-231-0255544
Swift Code: BNORPHMM
Bank Name: BDO Unibank Inc.
Bank Address: Cebu-Fuente Branch, Cebu City 6000 Philippines
Address of Account Holder: 10A Alo Compound, Elizabeth Pond Extension, Barangay Kamputhaw, Cebu City 6000 Philippines