THE PINOY CHRISTMAS ALPHABET

Culture

THE PINOY CHRISTMAS ALPHABET

1 Comment 30 November 2010

By Aby Yap

In a nation whose days are marked by countless festivities—most of which you no longer celebrate for reasons financial and otherwise—you know it’s that most wonderful time of the year again when A to Z suddenly means:

Aguinaldo: With every warm greeting of Mano po, Ninong/Ninang comes every kid’s unconcealed wish for an aguinaldo. No, it doesn’t have to be gold, frankincense, or myrrh. A gift-wrapped toy or a crisp beInte is enough to earn a grateful kiss from your inaanak.

Bibingka: A taste of this season’s delights? Start with grilled bibingka, its sweetness melting with the salted egg, creamy cheese, and grated coconut in your mouth. Follow it with the purple puto bumbong and wrap up with a cup of hot thick tsokolate for a delicious experience.

Christmas Tree: You not only look forward to the lighting of the giant Christmas tree at Araneta Center, you also can’t wait to assemble your own tree in the living room and surround it with presents of all sizes. As soon as All Souls Day is over.

Dollars: More than any other time of the year, it’s during Christmas when dollars pour into the country. And like manna from heaven, dollars remitted by OFWs and spent by balikbayans make this season a lot merrier, especially for the lucky beneficiaries, and keep our economy sane.

Emote: For those who are into LDR (Long Distance Relationships) or certified members of the SMP (Samahang Malalamig ang Pasko), you can now emote-to-the max while listening to Gary V. croon Pasko na Sinta Ko without ridicule from people around you. That’s because they have to give love on Christmas Day, according to MJ.

Fiesta Ham: Whoever cooked up this branding deserves a lifetime supply of hamon. And not just any other ham; it should be fiesta ham! Imagine the need it has created among us. We lust after this delectable slab of glazed meat (with pineapple rings on top, please) year after year.

Gastos: Still wondering where your 13th month has gone? One miserable word: gastos. The worse part is we’re actually enjoying it. We shop for gifts, clothes, food, drinks, and whatever the season calls for like there’s no tomorrow. The only consolation is we’re no Scrooge.

Home: Ah, home, in the loving company of those dearest to you: family and friends. And if you’re part of an extended family, don’t forget to include your apos sa tuhod, 5th-degree cousins, kinakapatid, in-laws, kabarangays, etc. Christmas is worth celebrating when you’re at home.

Inaanak: For those whose list of inaanaks is longer than EDSA, playing Hide and Seek is the customary practice—not that it’s advisable. See, you can’t hide for the rest of your life. Besides, you have to confront your fear. Just arm yourself with aguinaldo.

Jesus: How many times have we heard it that Jesus is the reason for the season and not jolly Santa Claus? Yes, the big guy is rosy-cheeked, cute, and brings us gifts through the chimney (which makes his identity sound incredible). But Jesus, the poor babe who was born in a manger, is our Savior.

Karoling: “Namamasko pooo!”  Once you hear this announcement, prepare to listen to a sintunado medley of Sa may bahay…, Ang Pasko ay sumapit, and other easy-to-memorize Pinoy carols. Then, give out a few coins lest you hear them sing “Thank you, thank you, ang babarat ninyo.”

Lechon: As in any other fiesta, lechon will always be the Christmas table’s centerpiece. It’s not healthy, yes, but who said being healthy is part of this season’s deal? Remember: pigging out is allowed during the holidays (and certain occasions).

Metro Manila Film Festival: It’s your chance to see the unstoppable Shake, Rattle & Roll once again! (It’s now on its 12th sequel.) And Bosing Vic transform into the legendary Enteng Kabisote! So, forget Hollywood flicks for a while and let’s support our local films.

Noche Buena: It’s probably the most awaited meal of the year. At the strike of midnight, your usually bare table instantly turns into a lavish feast fit for the kings. Oh, the picture of meat dishes, carbs, and sweets gathered altogether is mouth-watering!

Over the Top: It’s been said many times in many ways that Pinoys have the longest, grandest, costliest, and of course, the merriest Christmas of all. That’s definitely over the top!

Parol: No house—big or small—is caught without a parol come the holidays. It could be as simple as bamboo sticks formed together to be a star then wrapped with papel de hapon, or as high-tech as the capiz lantern with dancing lights in Pampanga.

Queso de Bola: It’s like fruitcake; everyone has it, but no one eats it. Fortunately, it makes for a nice shiny red décor on your platter of New Year’s Day fruits.

Reunion: With the entire angkan (including people you didn’t even know you were related to), long-lost kindergarten classmates, high school friends, college barkada, and former officemates—there are all sorts of reunions that you just have to attend. If only for the tsismis

Simbang Gabi: Ready to hear mass for nine straight mornings? Take note: it’s 4 a.m. But that’s what makes Simbang Gabi all the more exciting; it’s a real test of your willpower! Here’s the deal: if you pass it, your one wish shall be granted.

Tiangge: Rejoice, bargain hunters (read: kuripot)! Your Christmas shopping worries are nearly no more with good, old tiangges where the rule of thumb is to haggle—what you’re naturally good at. Warning: prepare for a battle of siksikan and tulakan.

Unlimited Food and Drinks: Since everyone is extra generous and welcoming, you’ll get invites to every party there is. Grab this opportunity to spare yourself from dining expenses. With the unlimited food and drinks available, you’ll never go hungry or thirsty—at least during the holidays.

Vacation Leave: After a year’s hard work, you deserve a long break. And when’s a better time to take your vacation leave than during Christmas season? Thinking about all the shopping and reunions will distract you anyway. Hence, the influx of balikbayans.

White Christmas: Call it the American dream, but many Pinoys still dream of a white Christmas. That is, frolicking in the snow and building Frosty while singing Winter Wonderland.

X-change Gift: Something soft? Something smelly? Something special? Buying an X-change gift, “X” meaning top secret, for your Monito Monita or Kris Kringle could be challenging and exciting or disappointing and annoying—depending on the gift you’ll receive.

Year-end Reflections: The holidays, too, are a perfect time to go through year-end reflections in preparation for New Year’s resolutions. Example: I think I ate too much crispy pata that it’s starting to show in my thighs. I’ll start dieting on January 2.

Zero: The truth is all that holiday splurging could give you a zero, even a negative, balance in your financial books. But, hey, Christmas happens only once in a year—though celebrating it is bound to be a little too exaggerated if you’re a Pinoy. (Please see entry on O.) So, let’s just eat, drink, and be merry! Ho, ho, ho!

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THE MAN BEHIND ‘MANG INASAL’

People

THE MAN BEHIND ‘MANG INASAL’

3 Comments 26 November 2010

Jollibee Foods Corp. (JFC), the country’s largest fast food chain, has taken over control of Mang Inasal, a highly successful Visayas-based restaurant chain specializing in grilled chicken, in a deal worth P3 billion.

In its disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange on Oct. 18, JFC said it has submitted an unsolicited offer to acquire 70 percent of Mang Inasal Philippines Inc. (MIPI), which was unconditionally and irrevocably accepted by its parent company, Injap Investments Inc. MIPI remains a significant minority holder with 30 percent equity.

Mang Inasal, a homegrown business, started as a single proprietorship in December 2003 by its founder, Edgar “Injap” Sia II, in Iloilo City, the first barbecue fast food chain anchored by its flagship chicken inasal product.

MIPI, which has grown its branches to 306 stores nationwide, is in a positive net cash position, racking up total revenues of P2.6 billion and system-wide sales of P3.8 billion. It is targeting 500 stores nationwide before 2012.

Observers say Jollibee’s buyout of controlling interest in Mang Inasal was meant to eliminate a fast-growing competition and maintain its market dominance over the local fast food industry.

The Jollibee Group already operates the most extensive fast food network in the Philippines with a total of 1,578 stores: Jollibee (703), Chowking (404), Greenwich (218), Red Ribbon (215), Delifrance (23) and Manong Pepe’s (15).

On Oct. 12,  Sia,  chairman and CEO of Mang Inasal Philippines, Inc., was presented the Small Business Entrepreneur award for 2010 by the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year (Philippines) for best demonstrating management excellence in a business with assets of less than P100 million.

In the following article, Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines 2010 chronicles how the young probinsiyano entrepreneur defied the odds and steered Mang Inasal to its phenomenal success.

Young probinsiyano entrepreneur shows the way

The Philippines is the 12th most populous country in the world with over 90 million mouths to feed. Without a doubt, getting into the food business remains a very viable opportunity for entrepreneurs. But with so many players, how does one stand out to be noticed? More importantly, how can another food business make it big time?

Edgar “Injap” J. Sia II answered these questions by conducting his research in a very methodical manner. He looked at the 16 different regions in the Philippines and recognized that each has a unique set of culinary traditions and eating habits. He then analyzed and identified what type of food would have the most potential and mass appeal. This was the ubiquitous barbecue (inasal in Ilonggo).

With much perseverance, innovative thinking and a deep understanding of business, Sia created Mang Inasal in Iloilo City in 2003. Today it has emerged as the country’s sixth largest fast food chain and its growth seems to be unstoppable.

That the boyish Sia would venture into business comes as no surprise. Born into a family of Chinese-Filipino entrepreneurs, he was exposed to business from a very young age.

He recounts how, at the age of 10, he would spend his after-school hours stacking merchandise or manning the counter in his parents’ grocery store in Roxas City. “While many of my friends were playing or riding their bikes, I would be moving inventory and counting soap,” he recalls.

The family store became the training ground that cultivated Mr. Sia’s drive for success. Learning from the example of his industrious parents, Sia developed what he refers to as an almost “sixth sense” for business. At 20, he was already running multiple businesses — a photo developing franchise, a 58-room three-star hotel and a laundry shop in Iloilo City.

Sia seized another opportunity that came knocking in December 2003 when he was offered a 250-square meter space behind Robinson’s Place Iloilo. The space, in an unused car park, was being offered at a very attractive price. Listening to his well-honed business instincts, he jumped at the chance to acquire it. In retrospect, Mr. Sia admits that he acted on a hunch.

“The price was so attractive that I couldn’t forego it, even if I had no business plan in mind. I bought the space not knowing what to do with it! You can say that the space came ahead of the concept.”

While mulling over ideas, Sia was sure of one thing — whatever he came up with had to have the potential to expand on a nationwide scale. After much consideration, he eventually decided to go for the time-tested appeal of the Ilonggo’s comfort food, chicken barbecue or inasal, served fast-food style. Mang Inasal fuses Filipino cuisine with the fast food dine-in concept.

Mang Inasal was Sia’s first venture into the food industry and the challenges he encountered were daunting. When he started, the concept of a fast food restaurant serving traditional Filipino dishes was a novelty and Sia knew he was up against the top players in the Philippine fast food industry. Without a real system in place during his first year of operation and no commissary to supply their raw materials, he had to learn the hard way.

Sia in fact had to do most of the work, from managing the business to preparing and serving the food to cleaning up afterwards. This complete lack of hesitation to do backbreaking work, however, enabled Sia to achieve in seven years what others have taken twice as long to achieve.

Barely a year after Mang Inasal opened, Sia was able to set up another branch, this time in his native Roxas City. Their second year of operation saw six more branch openings and, in their third year, over 20 more. This phenomenal growth brought a flood of franchise offers but Sia held back until 2005 when he was completely confident of the stability and brand recall of the business. Only after a year of sustaining market demand and developing his customer base was he convinced that Mang Inasal was en route to expansion.

When Sia finally opened Mang Inasal for franchising, he concentrated his efforts on his own backyard — Visayas and Mindanao — where inasal is most popular. Not long afterwards, potential franchises from Luzon showed much interest, paving the way for Mang Inasal to penetrate Metro Manila. Mang Inasal now counts 306 branches nationwide of which 28 are company-owned.

As Mang Inasal gained popularity, there was a need to maintain top quality. To safeguard consistency in all aspects of the business, such as product quality and cleanliness, Sia established several monitoring systems and procedures. A highly skilled research and development team was tasked to handle product development and guarantee a consistent inasal taste. To facilitate smooth transactions with their commissaries and ensure consistent supplies, Sia implemented an advanced online supply ordering system for his branches.

The 32-year-old Sia considers sheer hard work and innovation as the primary reasons of Mang Inasal’s success. He also cites the uniqueness that allowed him to beat the odds as a new player in the fast food industry.

He says, “Mang Inasal is a truly Filipino-style fast food chain. Our concept, ambiance and even the way our food is served on banana leaves is authentically Filipino.”

This, according to Sia, differentiates them from the other fast food giants in the country. In addition, Mang Inasal was one of the first quick-service restaurants to offer unlimited rice, which strongly appealed to diners.

Despite the success of Mang Inasal, Sia recognizes there’s still a lot that can be done to even make it bigger. He is constantly thinking up new ideas to maintain Mang Inasal’s competitive edge, such as their recently launched delivery service.

Variations in the breakfast menu are being developed and he is also looking at giving fast food dining a whole new feel with patented combo cups. The company is preparing to go public by the end of 2010 to solidify its stronghold in the Philippine fast food industry.

While he listens to his instinct, Sia is very calculated and strategic in his approach to business. He firmly believes in hard work and perseverance, and encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to do the same.

He also urges them to believe in their capacity to make their dreams come true, saying “Nothing is impossible with the right attitude. Do not be intimidated by problems. Instead, look at them as opportunities for growth. I was lucky to acquire the right entrepreneurial attitude as a young boy. You could say I developed the right asal (behavior) for inasal,” he quips.

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IMEE MARCOS ON HER LOVES, MARTIAL LAW, BETRAYAL AND LIFE AFTER EDSA

People

IMEE MARCOS ON HER LOVES, MARTIAL LAW, BETRAYAL AND LIFE AFTER EDSA

2 Comments 22 November 2010

Ilocos Norte is a feast of cultural, historical and natural offerings. And yet, if you must ask me my favorite tourist attraction, my number one is Ilocos Norte’s governor, Imee herself, who almost always ends up being asked to pose with foreign tourists, balikbayans, and local travelers for photo ops. READ FULL STORY

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AMPATUANS’ WEB OF FEAR

Current Affairs

AMPATUANS’ WEB OF FEAR

No Comments 22 November 2010

Sharif Aguak, Philippines (AFP) – Leaders of a Muslim clan accused of carrying out the Philippines’ worst political massacre remain a major security threat in their home province even from behind bars, locals say.

Residents in the southern province of Maguindanao still talk about the Ampatuan family in hushed voices, because saying anything bad about the clan could bring bloody reprisals from loyal militiamen who have eluded arrest.

“Their forces are still very much around. You may not see the family’s leaders anymore, but you can still feel their presence,” said Jun Dadula, a long-time government employee, whose name was changed to protect his identity.

Dadula has lived all his life literally under the shadows of the Ampatuans — his family’s modest bungalow is not far from the mansions owned by Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons in Shariff Aguak, the provincial capital.

He described Ampatuan Sr. as a benevolent godfather to those who were loyal to him, but a vengeful and violent man to those who went against his will.

“No one dares to go against them,” he said as a column of military tanks and armored personnel carriers patrolled the main highway amid heightened tensions just ahead of the first anniversary of the massacre on Nov. 23.

Clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., his son and namesake, and four other relatives are among 196 people charged with murder for the November 23 massacre of the 57 people — 32 of whom were journalists.

They are being held in a detention center a long flight away from Maguindanao, in Manila, while awaiting trial — a process that could take years — yet have access to mobile phones and other forms of communication.

Last year’s murders were meant to stop a politician from a rival family, Esmael Mangudadatu, from contesting the governorship of the province.

Mangudadatu eventually won the post in May national elections after the Ampatuans lost their political support from then president Gloria Arroyo amid the fallout from the massacre.

But Mangudadatu, whose wife was among last year’s victims, said many of the clan’s loyal armed followers continued to elude a police manhunt by hiding in Maguindanao’s remote hilly areas.

He blamed them for the murders of at least five potential witnesses, including a former Ampatuan militiaman gunned down in July whose death has been widely reported.

“They remain very dangerous and can receive instructions any time (from the Ampatuan leaders) through mobile phones,” Mangudadatu told Agence France-Presse.

Illustrating the security threat, Mangudadatu has chosen not to set up his governors’ base in Shariff Aguak, preferring a town with fewer Ampatuan links, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) away.

He will travel on Nov. 23 to the massacre site on the outskirts of Shariff Aguak, along with other relatives of the murdered people, for a one-year anniversary commemoration service.

However they will only go protected with heavy military security.

Ampatuan Sr. rose to prominence in the 1970s as a leader of a paramilitary group before entering politics as a mayor in Maguindanao province.

He later became provincial governor, and consolidated power and wealth by allegedly taking over vast tracts of land by force and by eliminating other families that were seen as a threat, according to Human Rights Watch.

The family’s power grew even stronger under the patronage of Arroyo, who used the Ampatuans and their militia of up to 5,000 men as a proxy force against Muslim rebels who have waged a decades-long insurgency in the southern Philippines.

Human Rights Watch said in a report that the Ampatuans remained in control in some parts of Maguindanao even after a security crackdown following last year’s massacre that led to the clan’s leaders being arrested.

It noted that eight of the 34 mayors who won in the May 2010 elections were Ampatuan relatives.

The continued violence has left people like Bai Nena Sahrik with little hope of seeing her 10-month-old granddaughter grow up in a place where she can play without fear of being abducted or harmed.

“We are still very, very afraid,” said Sahrik, as she lined up to receive a cash dole-out at a dilapidated municipal building in a town named after the Ampatuans.

“Everyday, we are reminded of them,” she said, pointing to a fading campaign picture on a wall showing Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the clan leaders in jail awaiting trial. (Agence France-Presse)

PHOTO: Principal accused Andal Ampatuan Jr.

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MANNY PACQUIAO: ONE OF A KIND

Sports

MANNY PACQUIAO: ONE OF A KIND

No Comments 14 November 2010

By Michael Rosenthal

Arlington, Texas – We’re running out of words.

Manny Pacquiao fought a three-time world titleholder who outweighed him by 17 pounds when they entered the ring. He supposedly had a number of distractions while training in the Philippines. He was sluggish in sparring. Even some of those close to him were concerned going into this fight.

The result? A beating the likes we’ve rarely seen at this level of boxing, one that gave Pacquiao a major title in a mind-boggling eighth weight class – almost half of the 17 – and added to a legend that just continues to grow.

The scores indicate how one-sided it was before 41,734 on Nov. 13 at Cowboys Stadium: 120-108 (a shutout), 118-110 and 119-109. The RingTV.com had it 120-107. The CompuBox punch stats were staggering: Pacquiao landed 474 punches (out of 1,069 thrown), No. 8 all-time for a title fight. And get this: He landed 411 of 713 power shots, 58 percent.

You had to see it to fully understand it, though.

Pacquiao landed two-, three-, four-punch combinations seemingly at will and avoided taking blows unless he purposely stepped into the path of danger, a pattern that left Margarito’s face a grotesque mess. His skin was bright red, his eyes were swollen shut and blood dripped from a deep cut under his right eye.

Exhilarating and gruesome

It was exhilarating and gruesome at the same time.

It was exhilarating because of the explosiveness and efficiency of Pacquiao’s work. I was in absolute awe at what I saw, a once-in-a-lifetime athlete whose ability is a true gift to boxing fans.

It was gruesome because a brave man was being beaten to a pulp by the fast hands of a killer. Even those disgusted with Margarito’s role in the hand-wrap scandal had to feel sorry for him during the last few rounds of the fight, which should’ve been stopped to prevent further suffering.

To be clear, this wasn’t a great fight. It was a slaughter, which was predictable given the wide disparity in their talent. Margarito’s size advantage was meaningful only because it likely played a role in his survival.

Pacquiao could’ve won every second of every round by pecking away at Margarito from the outside and avoiding his rushes by using his quick feet, as he did numerous times when the Mexican tried to trap him in a corner or against ropes.

Make people happy

That’s not Pacquiao, though. He purposely entered dangerous situations – fighting Margarito inside, laying on the ropes — because, as he said, “I wanted to make people happy.” As a result, he added some drama to the fight by taking a few unnecessary punches.

“It was a hard fight,” said Pacquiao, being charitable. “I did my best to win. I can’t believe I beat a guy that big and that strong.”

That said, Pacquiao (52-3-2, 38 knockouts) was never, ever in trouble. He said afterward that he knew in the second round that this was his fight but I suspect that realization probably came before they signed the contracts several months ago.

The Filipino marvel knew exactly what he was getting into. Still, he had to get the job done against a relative giant. Margarito weighed 165 pounds , Pacquiao 148, which in effect meant they were three weight classes apart.

And Pacquiao made it an absolute rout.

“I don’t think we lost a round,” said Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach. “I wish we would’ve knocked him out. He’s a very tough guy. I’m surprised how tough. He has the worst corner. His corner ruined his career by not stopping the fight.”

Uncommon courage

Margarito (38-7, 27 KOs) did show uncommon courage, which isn’t surprising given his track record of such efforts.

The proud Mexican would never have quit. And referee Laurence Cole probably would never have stopped it because Margarito continued to defend himself (or at least try) and throw punches.

It was up to Robert Garcia, Margarito’s trainer. He reportedly asked his fighter whether he wanted to continue late in the fight – and was told emphatically, “yes” – but Garcia probably should’ve stepped in nevertheless.

In the end, it was Pacquiao who saved his opponent from undue punishment. He went into cruise control the last few rounds because he didn’t want to inflict unnecessary punishment, which might’ve cost him a knockout.

“I told the ref, ‘Look at his eyes, look at his cuts,’” Pacquiao said. “I didn’t want to hurt him anymore.”

So in the end he turned in one of the most-dominating performances in recent years and then capped it off with a heart-warming act of kindness.

That’s Manny Pacquiao. One of a kind.

(Michael Rosenthal is an associate editor of The Ring magazine.)

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MARIA RESSA: FROM BUILDING A STORY TO BUILDING A NATION

People

MARIA RESSA: FROM BUILDING A STORY TO BUILDING A NATION

No Comments 08 November 2010

By Aby Yap

Maria Ressa’s own story is as compelling as the acclaimed stories she produced.

In the span of two decades, she co-pioneered the investigative newsmagazine format in local television, witnessed and chronicled Southeast Asia’s historic evolution, and authored a book detailing the infamous Al-Qaeda’s terrorist operations for which she landed a slot in the recent Esquire magazine’s Sexiest Women Alive list. An “unorthodox choice,” she tweeted appreciatively.

In the last six years, too, this award-winning journalist served as ABS-CBN’s News and Current Affairs chief, redefining Philippine broadcast journalism to become the force for nation-building. On October 11, however, news spread that she’d no longer renew her contract with the network, which is set to expire on January 3, 2011. She wne ton terminal leave in early November.

Her personal revolution

Moving to New Jersey at 10, Maria realized early on that she was different.

“They were much taller,” she recalls of living in a nearly all-white community. “They had self-assurance that you didn’t have.”

But Maria’s mindset was what probably set her out to a lifetime career as a trailblazer.

“You either retreat from it, or you embrace it and succeed at it,” Maria tells Planet Philippines in an exclusive interview a few weeks before she announced she was leaving her current job. “I wanted to prove that I was good and to prove it to myself, I needed to prove what I could do. So, I tried to do everything.”

“Everything” covered the academics, student council, playing sports and musical instruments. Eventually, it meant taking up molecular biology, finishing an English theatre and dance degree at Princeton University, applying to law school then deferring it for political theatre studies in the Philippines on a Fulbright Fellowship.

Her interest in her native soil, however, was stirred only when everyone began talking about the Philippines after the 1986 People Power Revolution. Though being Filipino eluded her then, she decided that she’d go back and find her roots.

Life-changing journey

Her journey led to something else.

“Cheche Lazaro changed everything because she asked me to stay and set up Probe Productions. Maybe it was this that changed my life,” she narrates. “I never really moved back to the States after that. I committed to the Philippines and Asia. Now, with ABS-CBN.”

Cecilia “Cheche” Lazaro is the brains behind the award-winning and pioneer investigative program Probe which signed off last June after 24 years and where Maria served as director/writer/producer while simultaneously working for CNN as reporter.

In 1995, CNN relocated the bureau to Jakarta, and Maria lived there for about 10 years. As the Jakarta bureau chief of CNN International, she was lead reporter in East Timor, Indonesia and the Philippines. Her investigative reporting on Asia’s terror networks led to write the book Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia.

“As I wrote the book, I felt like, ‘Phew, what else can I do?’ I’m not doing breaking news for the rest of my life. Now, I want to build something,” recounts Maria.

So, when she was invited to join the network the second time around, she readily accepted.

“I was 40 then. I thought that meant I was old enough to have had real experience and I felt I was good at what I did,” she relates. “At the same time, I felt I was young enough. I still had enough energy to actually try to change something.”

Rebuilding and creating

What Maria describes as a long battle started with the realization “that 90 percent of Filipinos get their news from television.”

“If you watch television and if we do our jobs properly, we can have a big nation-building,” she says.

So, Maria immediately worked on implementing a comprehensive Standards and Ethics Manual inspired by Princeton University’s Honor System. She cites an example, “If someone takes a bribe, we fire them. No matter how good you are.”

She herself took to a Code while moving into ABS-CBN. It was then Indonesia’s newly appointed Trade Minister Mari Pangestu’s advice, whom she asked how she’d reform the bureaucracy of 4,000 people strong.

“She said, ‘Don’t bring in more than four people (of your own). You have to fight the battle from within,’” recounts the feisty journalist who stands barely five feet. “I stuck to those rules, because you have to effect culture change from the ground that the organization must change with you.”

Amused, Maria admits to being culture-shocked with the transition in the beginning. But she understands Filipinos better now, ABS-CBN being the microcosm of Philippine society.

Noticing before that Pinoys seemed to complain a lot, she thought, “We’re unhappy. We don’t like it. But what are we doing about it?”

Launch of citizen journalism

Thus, citizen journalism was launched through Citizen Patrol in 2005. The first Boto Mo, I-patrol Mo came in 2007, followed by Bayan Mo, I-patrol Mo the year after. In 2009, it became Ako ang Simula, adopted from Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “Be the change you want to see.”

“It takes the idea of empowerment. It’s a tipping point approach to nation-building,” elaborates Maria. “You can’t build a strong nation if your people don’t have a stake, don’t care enough to take action.”

The feedback has been increasingly positive. While in 2007, they received 500 messages a week leading up to the elections; today, it’s 500 messages per day—and it’s just for SMS alone.

“I only have 50 reporters, but now I have 90,000 patrollers,” she shares excitedly. “More and more people are embracing. They want to participate and have a voice. Our culture is changing.”

Journalism is also changing, adds Maria, so they’re embracing new media like Twitter and Facebook for news gathering and viewer participation.

“Technology has already changed the way we think. Because the way we think has changed, the way we act has changed,” this Twitter fan opines.

Thus, her focus to redefine what journalism is and how it’s delivered towards the fulfilment of a promise in 1986 that has long been delayed: a nation creating itself.

“I hope that happens in my lifetime,” the 47-year-old journalist wishes aloud. “I’ll be part of it as a journalist to help make that happen.”

Writing another story

Their coverage of the 2010 national elections and the Luneta hostage crisis are a testament to how extensive their reach is. However, it’s not without flak.

There was the alleged bias for then presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino, for one. Also, their blow-by-blow live reporting of the August 23 hostage incident (along with other TV and radio networks) was partly blamed for the failed rescue attempt.

These two issues, along with her critical article, “Noynoy Flunks His First Test,” in The Wall Street Journal (Asia) and long-standing office politics factored in her unexpected departure, naysayers point out.

But as Maria writes in a farewell e-mail for her team, “There is a time and place for everything in our lives.” And hers has already arrived.

“In the end, it comes down to what we can do. You’re only good as your last story. After this, you move on. What’s your next story? You have to put in as much energy, time, and passion to make sure that the next story will be the best that you can do,” she stresses.

But what could be her next story?

On October 16, Maria tweeted for the first time since the news of her leaving broke, “I’m happy and planning what’s next. Will let you know once I know! :-).”

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