Filipino journalists

[OPINION] To honor Aries Rufo

John Sitchon

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[OPINION] To honor Aries Rufo

Guia Abogado

Rappler Regions reporter John Sitchon reflects on his time as a fellow for the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship program in 2023

I was 23 and still pursuing a communication degree when I got accepted into the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship program in February 2023.

It was also probably the first time I had heard about the late investigative reporter. I was told that he started as a young reporter for a media company in Manila in the 1990s, covered the Church beat, and made multiple investigative reports that garnered him the respect and admiration of his peers.

Listening to those stories brought me back to my small desk in my small home in my small provincial town, reading comic books about Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent who worked for the Daily Planet in Metropolis.

In a way, Aries Rufo was a lot like Superman – not in the sense that he had superpowers (which probably would have explained how he wrote those articles and books) but in how one becomes a symbol of hope.

Rufo, like many journalists that I look up to, sacrificed his time and personal welfare to ring the alarm bell and warn everyone about the big bads of the world. 

He entered the belly of the beast, dove deep into the abyss, walked into the halls of the wicked to tell the story and help give victims of oppression the closure and justice they deserve.

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So I made the vow to do the same and more. 

In February that year, I started getting into environmental journalism – my niche, I thought, owing to the many questionable “development” projects that were being proposed in the province of Cebu. 

I took the time to walk in the footsteps of families and advocates who were fighting for their homes. From childhood tales to things that made them tick, I wanted to know and I was hungry, a trait I believed I needed to have if I was to be like Rufo.

Weeks later, I found myself deep in the mountains talking to farmers who lost their livestock overnight due to the increasing spread of the African swine fever (ASF). I asked all of my questions and vetted every response.

Initially, I thought that the more people I talked to, the closer I was to completing my deliverables and successfully producing long-forms that could stand next to Rufo’s published works.

But I was exhausted. There was a lot of suffering and grief. There was so much pain to wade through. I had learned that beyond doing the investigative work, one must have the emotional capacity to handle the trauma.

Each night was a struggle to find the right words to describe my source’s problems, and going over recordings back and forth to properly quote and catch the emotions felt during the interview.

Nevermind the distance traveled to find those stories or the trouble I’d get into by being in the way of big businesses and corrupt officials, the loss of livelihoods and failed futures weighed over my head as I made the journey.

I believe that Rufo had to go through so much of this as well. Scratch the back of his head, scour through his mind for logic and reason in the actions of people and the roots of conflict – it must have been very difficult.

But knowing how he accomplished what he did, finishing Altar of Secrets and Sins of the Father, it was reassuring. It gave me hope. 

I supposed that was his legacy. Hope.

Throughout the program, I received support and compassion from my peers, fellow community journalists, and mentors, who each provided me with the wisdom and knowledge necessary to overcome the hardest challenges.

The stipend, of course, was a great help for tuition, but being part of the activities, surrounded by professionals, gave me an immense amount of confidence, more than whatever kind of training I was getting from school.

If it weren’t for the fellowship, I probably wouldn’t have graduated with flying colors and found purpose in journalism. I felt that I belonged and I had a place in society to contribute to.

Now that I’m finally a young reporter working for a media company in Manila, covering the whole Visayas and pursuing multiple in-depths, I’m going to keep doing what I vowed to do: To live and tell the stories in honor of Aries Rufo. – Rappler.com

The views expressed by the writer are his/her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Rappler.

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