This time last year, I was preparing to leave my job of four years, and the only job I really ever wanted to have. I was part of a class suit against GMA Network that demanded regularization and statutory benefits for the media workers. As a result, we were meted with an unofficial death sentence — to be fired when 2014 ends.
That didn’t happen. We were allowed to stay in the company meanwhile, and up to this day, our future remains unclear.
A lot has happened in the last year.
We have staged a rally in front of the company and were suspended as a result. We have won two cases at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and as follows, have answered to two appeals from GMA Network. We’ve lost some of our colleagues, some were fired, some just left. I have lost friends, and gained many enemies including invisible ones who have sent me anonymous messages of hate for “biting the hands that feed me.”
I’ve discovered a lot about the world I live in. That maybe this wasn’t the world that I imagined. That maybe it’s changed and I can’t keep up, that I might not be meant for this after all. That maybe it’s really the time to say goodbye.
In the past year, my heart for activism grew stronger. Impassioned by our fight for labor rights, the past year for me has been an intense conflict over where to draw the line between advocacy and journalism.
I wanted to join Celia Veloso on the streets, but didn’t. I wanted to join the picket of laborers for the President’s State of the Nation Address, but didn’t. I wanted to join the LGBT pride march, but didn’t. I wanted to join the last stand in Marawi for the Bangsamoro Basic Law, but didn’t. Because it wasn’t my job to be on the streets.
I remember the 5th of September, four days after three Lumad leaders were killed in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Their relatives and other members of the tribe came to Manila to tell their story. A story that started three months before in Davao when hundred of Lumads fled their community due to alleged militarization, a story that has been going on for decades beginning from the time that their rights to their land were threatened.
On September 5, nobody listened to the Lumads who were then at the Philippine Capital. Alden and Yaya Dub have just seen each other for the first time that day. So who cares about some Lumads? Their episode earned them 5 million tweets, a record that would be broken every week by the same show. That week, #StopLumadKillings gained a little bit of traction and trended in the Philippines, but for no more than 10 minutes.
It was a combination of frustration and guilt that drove me out of my seat and into a plane to Surigao del Sur. Perhaps as a journalist it wasn’t my job, but I could no longer just do nothing.
As I talked to children as young as 9 but already more articulate than the privileged students in posh Manila; when we drove up the mountain of Sitio Han-Ayan and I saw the blood stain of Emerito Samarca on the floor of their school, I started to believe that perhaps it was my job to take a stand. Neutrality only oppresses the victim, and objectivity is a myth.
My stand isn’t political. I don’t stand with the left, nor with the military. I stand for human rights. I stand for the victims of summary executions, and the children they left fatherless. I stand for the young boys and girls who watched their loved ones die. I stand for the babies born into a tent, and for their mothers who have to raise them in such dire conditions. I stand for the thousands of them who couldn’t go back home, and I stand for the young people who couldn’t continue studying.
Over the year I’ve met so many people who taught me more about this job than what the Newsroom has taught me the last five years. And I decided that the real value of this job is the people you meet, their struggles, their successes and the ways that you’re able to affect them, and the ways you’re able to change just by listening to their stories.
If I look back on this year and reflect on what I’ve learned about the world I live in, I will think of the Lumads in Surigao, or the Mangyans in Mindoro, or the former sex workers in Pampanga, or the farmers and fishermen in Alabat, and know that as long as there are people like them, there are still reasons to stay in this world.
It is a valid criticism when people say that I should just leave this job, instead of stay and point out holes all the time. But for all the shortcomings of the company to its employees, GMA News continues to serve the people.
And more than my own fight for labor rights, my stand is that I am put here to serve the people. As long as I am still allowed to do that, I will regard it as an honor and a privilege.
I don’t know how much time I have left in the company, but let it be known that the last five years have been the best, and much of who I am now is a product of my collective experience that I wouldn’t have had if not for GMA. It is and will always be an honor being a Kapuso.
But at this point I have stopped defining my life by the company I work for; whether staying in GMA is preposterous or leaving is counterproductive.
I just want to be able to continue telling stories that matter, and I will be with whoever lets me.
My time in GMA is provisional, but one thing I’ve always been sure of, my love for news is eternal. And in that aspect, there is really no saying goodbye.