Filipino journalists

Aries, we shall weep for a night

Miriam Grace A. Go

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Aries, we shall weep for a night
Rappler news editor Miriam Grace A. Go writes on the persistence, courage, and sheer love of life exemplified by veteran investigative reporter Aries Rufo, who passed away Saturday at age 45

MANILA, Philippines – Past midnight of Saturday, September 19, I found myself crying, just crying, and I couldn’t tell why.

“Lord, where is this sorrow coming from?” I would have normally texted you, as I had done many times at unholy hours in the past, when I needed to admit to being vulnerable, to not fully understanding some things.

But I didn’t bother you. I knew that in the past weeks, you were trying to go to bed early, trying to get as much rest as you could, trying to avoid any additional worries. You knew that we wanted you to get well. In fact, we were expecting you to get well. Not so much because there were investigations to pursue, but because we wanted to see and hear your old self – maporma, to the point of being vain; engaging us in witty banter; making hilarious commentary on issues and personalities; and, finally, calming us down and showing us people and things in a light we had probably refused to see.

I was certain, however, that you would’ve told me, as you had done many times before, “The universe may be trying to tell you something.” (READ: Rappler senior investigative reporter Aries Rufo dies) How could I have not realized that, at that particular moment, it was you who was trying to tell me something? That you were leaving us in the afternoon. This is not how you write and end a story, Aries. We know that. The most confidential stories, you still let a core group of trusted people know – that should’ve been us, so we could help and protect you. The most sensitive topics, you don’t broadcast without first letting those who will be most affected know that these were coming – that would be us, blindsided by our confidence that you’d bounce back to be with us for as long as we wanted. You cannot blame us for having that confidence. In life and in work, you were persistent before persistence was invented; resilient before resilience became a buzzword. You loved life, not because you were afraid of death, but because you had an admirable appreciation of this most precious gift God had given you and all of us. Maybe we were enjoying your life with us so much that we had forgotten, your idea of celebrating this blessing was to not resist when its Giver was already calling you; that your idea of giving us joy was to not burden our hearts with seeing you struggle with the physical hardship. Oo nga pala, that’s how Aries was – imparting the best that he is and the most that he knows, if doing so would uplift and enrich others, but laboring by himself over the ugly, difficult parts. And when everything is wrapped up in one beautiful, powerful story – in work and in life – he shares the good with everybody who wants to partake in it.

I grew up with Aries as a journalist, as many of you have – from the time we were reporters for The Manila Times, worked separately after Erap had it folded up, and got together again at Newsbreak and Rappler. He was not only relentless when pursuing scoops and big stories, he was passionate even about the routine, everyday stories on the beat. He was never affected by either the praises that he got or the fear he sowed in his reports. Awards were never his aim – he was just thankful every time he received one, because the prize money would ease his household budget for a few months. Everything to him was just what he owed his public, his society, his country to produce.

He was clean. How clean? In 2000, Aries was already working on an investigation into the taxable wealth of the Archdiocese of Manila. It was a topic that he wanted to pursue at the Manila Times, before Erap had it closed in 1999. He did interviews and gathered documents anyway, using his own money, but still no editor or publisher wanted to take in his work. The reason given then was that Jaime Cardinal Sin was leading the calls for President Estrada to resign for being corrupt and immoral, and that it was not a good time to supposedly demolish the Church. Somebody from Estrada’s camp learned about it, and lost no time to offer Aries P1 million to have the story published. He refused. No second thoughts. (READ: ‘How can a book destroy the Church?‘) It was when Newsbreak was formed that Aries finally got the support for all the things and people and institutions that he wanted to investigate: the Catholic Church, the Iglesia ni Cristo, the election body and watchdogs, the senators, the military, money-making NGOs. Again, everything was just work, and vocation, to him. In case of awards – he had the JVO, the DAJA, and the Natali Prize – his only concern was what he would wear to the ceremonies. At Rappler, he turned the younger ones – and that would mean practically everybody – into fangirls and fanboys. This was the face to the byline on many stories that sent the analytics crazy, the Mood Meter swinging to extremes, VIPs threatening us with cases, and the social media team on their most challenging engagements. Yet he was somebody who didn’t announce his presence in the newsroom. They just felt him touch their lives with his kindness, his graciousness, his humility, his authenticity. Puwede palang si Aries ay sabayan mong manigarilyo, makipag-tong-its sa iyo, maghugas ng platong pinagkainan niya, magtimpla ng sarili niyang kape. May oras pala siyang makinig sa istorya mo, sa hinaing mo, sa mga ilusyon mo. Hindi pala siya maramot sa pagbibigay ng sources, ng impormasyon, ng insights sa mga istorya. Puwede ka palang mag-share ng byline sa kanya. All readers and colleagues who knew Aries or his work are saying that he is a great loss to the industry, to this country so badly wanting in uncompromised, fearless, and responsible journalists. If I may add – at such a crucial time when we should be making aspirants to public offices uncomfortable at the prospects of unforgiving scrutiny. Young journalists are saying now, si Aries ang “peg” nila – they want to be like him someday.
Aries Rufo

We at Newsbreak love and respect him so much as well, we certainly won’t let Aries’ life and work be forgotten after all the eulogies.

The Journalism for Nation Building Foundation, which is run by editors of Newsbreak, will be renaming its ongoing investigative journalism fellowship program in Aries’ memory. We shall be establishing an investigative fund in his name, and we will welcome any contribution from people who may or may not know him personally but believe that his brand of journalism should continue to serve our industry, our country well. Aries would be the first to refuse such recognition. “Ang OA!” he would exclaim. Pero, Aries, ganti-ganti lang… you caught us by surprise with your goodbye, we will have our way this time: this is the only way we can make at least part of you stay. On the night of your passing away, I again couldn’t sleep and just kept crying. But this time, Psalm 30:5 was quickly in my mind: “Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” If this crying weren’t about you, I’m sure you would have told me, told us, many other versions of that comforting thought too. I have no doubt what God has spoken will happen. In time, we shall be comforted, we shall have peace, and we shall again have joy thinking of the old Aries we knew. Ang problema lang, Aries, this is going to be a long night for all of us whose lives you have wonderfully touched.

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Miriam Grace A. Go

Miriam Grace A Go’s areas of interest are local governance, campaigns and elections, and anything Japanese.