MANILA, Philippines — He walks in.
No, he bounces in.
There is a huge smile on his bespectacled face. He dons a crisp brown suit over a white polo, brightened by a red tie. His hair is peppered with gray. On his lapel is a subtle pin that serves as testament to his loyalties, a small, silver pin displaying three letters: BBC.
He waves to an intimate crowd of 100 – impeccably dressed as he is, seated in a ballroom of the Mandarin Hotel – guests of the British Chamber of Commerce, who have come to listen to him on the organization’s 10th anniversary. He is loud, boisterous, a ball of energy.
He is happy to be here, he says. Very happy indeed.
He takes his seat on stage, next to an old friend, a woman. She once worked for a rival network, CNN, and it is she that interviews him today.
Rico Hizon and Maria Ressa face to face.
Rico Hizon is the first Filipino anchor of BBC World News’ Newsday and Asia Business report.
On Wednesday, November 23rd, Ressa, former CNN Jakarta Bureau Chief, shot him questions, as well as fielded queries from the audience, who grilled Hizon about his thoughts on Philippine business, politics and attitudes.
When asked about how he proposes to end corruption in the country, Hizon emphasizes the need to start with the government, and the necessity of having consistencies in policies from one administration to another. The “big fish must be put behind bars,” he says, to gain the people’s trust.
But the efforts, he believes, cannot be exclusive to those in power.
“People also have to change their mindsets. It starts from [resisting] basic bribery of paying a policeman to get off a ticket,” he says.
While Hizon does not see the changes happening soon, he is hopeful that the justice system will be fixed sooner rather than later, citing the trial against Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s doctor, as a good example of a swift legal process. He says most Filipinos he talks to believe in President Benigno Aquino III’s policies, but they want to see things move faster.
He is more optimistic however, about business in the Philippines.
Hizon is confident in the ability of the country to have various hotbeds for investments, such as Manila, Cebu, and if the government can fight the insurgencies there, Mindanao. More and more people are looking for business opportunities in the country, he says, but they favor a few individuals.
“The trust has to expand because they only want to work with the Ayalas, the Sys, and the Panglinans,” he says. “We have to encourage Filipinos to be more entrepreneurial. Filipinos have a lot of creativity. We have what it takes to be world-class.”
He also expresses faith in the Filipino people to elect more efficient leaders in the future. He says he has seen celebrities running for government lose in recent years, a sign that the Philippine electorate has matured.
And if Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao were to run for the presidency in 2022?
“I think he still has to prove himself,” he says. “But if he does a lot by 2022, why not?”
He adds that in his opinion, Kris Aquino, the sister of President Aquino, would make a good president.
Life in BBC
When Hizon started off as a journalist for GMA, he did not think he had a chance because he wasn’t good-looking, until he realized it was about being smart, and asking the right questions.
He says he never got his big break in the Philippines, until he was discovered by BBC.
Today, Hizon loves his job.
He wakes up at 3am to go to work, and arrives at his Singapore office by 4am to prepare for his shows. He loves hearing Filipinos tell him that they are proud to see him in BBC.
“Whenever I sit on my anchor seat in the BBC… it’s like a dream for me,” he says. “I’ve never dreamt of working for the best.”
According to Hizon, the BBC does not mind being a few minutes behind CNN or Al-Jazeera in reporting news, because BBC always wants to be sure, accurate and precise. No backtracking statements, he says, all stories double-checked, triple-checked with two, three sources.
Hizon talks about BBC with pride, but admits the network is “a bit late in the game” when it comes to going digital. He recognizes the various platforms news is headed towards, and the necessity to connect television, print and online.
“We’re catching up,” he says. “Now there’s an aggressive strategy to be a major player in mass media.”
The proud Filipino shared his plans to return to the Philippines one day, and even considered joining the government last year. But because of duties he still had to BBC, decided against it.
“I love this country. Eventually I want to go back…I want to raise the profile of the Philippines,” he says. “It’s a great country.”
The conversation was lively and energetic, highlighted by a friendly back and forth between Ressa and Hizon at one point, on the value of positive versus negative news.
Hizon, a believer of positive news, says the Philippine press only reports negative stories. “I wish there were more balanced news and views,” he says.
He then asked Ressa why her reports in the 80s, when she worked for CNN, were mostly negative.
Ressa explained that aside from the fact that the 80s were a time of one coup after another, a reporter’s job is to report the chain of events, without rosy lenses.
“We report in order to find solutions,” she says. “I don’t think I was reporting negatively, I was reporting on the state of the nation.”
Hizon argued that a negative quote should be balanced with a positive quote, to which Ressa responded that the world is not always as even or simple.
He ended the session with advice for young journalists, aspiring to pursue a career in news.
“See the world. Read about the world. Don’t just read about the Philippines,” he says. “We have to learn about what’s happening outside the 7,107 islands.”
Follow the reporter on twitter: @natashya_g