‘Until the end, Tacloban journalists did job’

Ayee Macaraig

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Six journalists are missing, and feared dead, in Tacloban City after Haiyan

WIPED OUT. This is what's left of Aksyon Radyo Tacloban DYVL, where at least one media worker is confirmed dead. Photo by Rupert Ambil II/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Radio anchor Ronald Viñas reported about the wrath of Super Typhoon Yolanda  (international codename:Haiyan) as it hit Tacloban City. It was 8 am of Friday, November 8, and he was on standby to go on air once more.

His booming voice was never heard again.

Viñas is among at least 6 journalists and media workers of Aksyon Radyo Tacloban DYVL missing and feared dead in the aftermath of Haiyan. Only the body of station technician Allan Medino has been found.

Like the rest of the journalists in the region, Viñas and his team were prepared to mount a 24-hour coverage of the world’s strongest typhoon.

They reported for work, bringing their families with them to the DYVL station, in the belief that the office would be a safe shelter. Yet Haiyan’s storm surge wrecked the building and made the journalists like the rest of their city’s residents: victims.

Besides Viñas, those feared dead are DYVL drama talents Violy Custodio, Boy Mendigo, Jenevive and Joice Catubao, and Sid Plania.

Rhina Seco, associate general counsel for the Elizalde Group of Companies, told Rappler that their employers and colleagues are hoping for the best but bracing for the worst, with still no word on the missing 5 days later.

The Manila Broadcasting Company (MBC) is under the Elizalde Group, and DYVL is its local station in Tacloban.

’Pag taga-media ka, walang pinipiling oras ang public service. Walang holiday sa public service. Nakakalungkot na baka wala na sila,” Seco said.

(When you are in media, public service knows no time. There is no holiday in public service. It is sad that they might be gone.)

Veterans of typhoons, not storm surge

Rommel Rutor, a radio journalist based in Catbalogan, Samar, has been trying to account for journalists in Eastern Visayas since Saturday. He is president of the Samar Island Press Club, a group of journalists in the storm-stricken region.

In a phone interview with Rappler, Rutor said Tacloban reporters Archi Globio and Malou Realino of DYBR Apple Radio are also feared dead while radio anchors Babay Jaca, Jun Estoya, and Lulu Palencia are reported missing.

He said other journalists are wounded and have lost family members and homes to the typhoon.

A day after Haiyan lashed the region, Rutor went to hard-hit Tacloban to find his colleagues.

“Kami ang unang local media na nakarating, from Catbalogan. Hinahanap ko sila but unfortunately, ‘di namin kaya. ‘Di namin mahanap ang mga bahay kung saan kasi may areas na ground zero,” he said.  

(We were the first local media to reach Tacloban, from Catbalogan. We were looking for them but unfortunately, we could not find them. We can’t locate their houses because there were areas that are ground zero.)

Rutor paid a visit to the DYVL station of Viñas, his vice president in the press club. Save for the logo, the station located near the sea was beyond recognition.

“Biktimang-biktima rin ang media. Kung ano ang nakikita ng mga tao sa bahay ng ordinary citizens, ganoon din ang sitwasyon ng mga kasamahan natin sa media sa Tacloban. Kaya since day one, walang local media na makapag-operate, function, bato ng balita,” Rutor said. 

(Journalists are also victims. Whatever people see in the houses of ordinary citizens, that’s the same situation for our colleagues in the media in Tacloban. That’s why since day one, no local media was able to operate, function, and file reports.)

Photo by Rupert Ambil II/Rappler

He heard from another colleague who left Tacloban and is now being treated in Manila. “She told me that in 10 seconds, the water inundated their station in DYVR, which is also near the sea. They had to break the glass and get to the roof. There was zero visibility.”

Rutor is consolidating the reports about the journalists in the area for the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) as a member of the group’s Samar chapter.

Still, he has no news from colleagues in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, where Haiyan first made landfall.

Rutor said the journalists knew the dangers of reporting the typhoon but did not know enough.

“Sa Samar-Leyte area, hindi naman sa gusto naming magyabang, sanay kasi kami sa bagyo. Kahit gaano kalakas na hangin, ‘ di gaanong threat sa amin. We are aware of the danger, the risk. We know how to take care of ourselves,” he said.

(In the Samar-Leyte area, not to boast but we are used to typhoons. No matter how strong the wind, that is not a big threat to us.)  

“But what was unpredictable was the storm surge. No one thought Yolanda could bring this storm surge.”

Deaths not in vain

Seco said the tragedy was a learning experience for the media.

“We still lack information. Even those in media are not very familiar of what can really happen when there is storm signal number 4. We need to prepare but it is hard to prepare for the unfamiliar so it’s about time we study.”

Seco said MBC already sent teams to Tacloban and will put up a relief effort in Cebu, with its employees as priority.

She said the company will provide assistance to the families of Viñas and his officemates. 

“They can be called heroes in the media industry. They did not die in vain because until the end, they still delivered information to the people listening.” – Rappler.com


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