When the storyteller becomes the story
The letters have worn out of my computer keyboard, pattered all too often by the familiar tapping of my fingers. If anything, these letters imprinted on each digit — when woven together — narrate stories to millions of Filipinos watching through their television screens.
Stories of the struggling poor seeking justice, of successful businessmen scaling up the social ladder, of sick children needing medical attention—they all come to life with each segment our teams produce. These are just some of the stories I dreamed of producing as a child.
I grew up in the farmlands tilled by my grandfather. His gnarled hands plowed the earth biannually to earn a living. With limited access to information, and wages that could only afford to place food on the table, the only way he’d be alerted of a coming typhoon was by watching free television like ABS-CBN. I remember our family easing ourselves into the night to watch the evening news. And my grandfather would prick his ears in attention whenever the weatherman appeared.
In a country largely founded on agriculture and fishery, many Filipino farmers and fishermen from far-flung provinces are as reliant on something seemingly menial as the weather news.
Like ours, free television binds together Filipino households winding down for the day as they watch entertainment shows with their loved ones. Free television bridges the gap between the authorities and the marginalized. But more than ever, free television is especially crucial in the midst of a pandemic where one piece of fake news or misinformation can cause death to a person.
At the age of nine, I was already awakened to the influence of mass media, and nurtured the dream of one day being able to touch the lives of people like my grandfather. I burned my brows studying to achieve this and was able to get my college diploma as a mass communication graduate.
From then on until July 10, 2020, I felt like I was living my purpose. But then that fateful day happened. The day the Philippine Congress issued a final verdict on the franchise renewal of the largest broadcasting network in the country.
In that hour, there were almost 50 of us gathered around the office television, holding our breaths and hoping against hope for the compassion of our lawmakers. Then the news: “The resolution to deny ABS-CBN’s franchise application is hereby adopted.”
The silence that followed was eerie — not just in the room, but also inside of me. Suddenly, it felt like somebody had pressed the mute button on me and erased me from the narrative.
In that moment, I became one of the faceless identities whose jobs and future were wiped clean. At the hands of the 70 House representatives who voted for the company’s non-renewal, thousands of storytellers unwillingly became the story.
The denial of our network’s franchise is still unfathomable, considering that all concerned government agencies had cleared ABS-CBN of alleged violations.
Years ago, in a chilly classroom at the University of the Philippines, our journalism professors would always remind us that journalists should never be the story. They must evade the public eye to put more focus on the plight of the people they are writing about. But we have stories, too, and yes, they are personal. We are breadwinners, solo parents, and struggling dreamers.
At the newsroom, there’s a grief that can’t be spoken, to quote a line from Les Miserables. The cubicles are getting emptier each day. The halls that were once filled with bickering and panicked yelling have suddenly become quiet. The funniest workmates are now tensed and afraid. Sometimes, friends would tap me on the back to say their final goodbye. In their voices, I could also hear them bid farewell to the dreams they had worked so hard to achieve. I have even caught my mentors shedding tears while trying to stay optimistic.
Before the pandemic started, I was rushing from meeting to meeting, jotting down notes and trying to pierce through the overlapping voices that were suggesting story angles. But now, I can only think of my office mates and the stories we dreamed of creating. I think about the lives we could have touched and changed with our productions.
Today, we raise our fists in defiance: defending press freedom, defending democracy, defending the Philippine Constitution. One storyteller’s story is just the beginning. There are more of us.
We will hold the line: on our social media accounts, on the streets, or wherever hell may take us. Just wait and see. We will not go down in silence.
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Pam Castro, 23, is a writer and segment producer at ABS-CBN. She loves watching documentary films during her free time.
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