OPINION: Night falls on our regions, heartlands of this nation

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Aug 28 2020 10:43 PM | Updated as of Aug 29 2020 09:27 AM

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Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo (BMPM) made me appreciate just how important ABS-CBN’s regional news bureaus were in keeping communities safe. 

In the three years I headed BMPM, from 2010 to 2013, citizen journalists graduated from “I” (Ako Ang Simula) to “us” (Tayo Na).
The number of Bayan Patrollers grew from 100,000 to nearly 800,000 in those years. 

I met tens of thousands of them. Some of the engagements happened in plush convention centers or in university auditoriums; some were in sweltering community halls and gyms with cracked floors and hot or leaking tin roofs. Some venues had all the bells and whistles of technology. In others, we stuck with cartolina, Manila paper and coloured pens. 

It didn’t matter. City after city, town after town, province after province, we were all humbled by the hunger that vibrated from young and old, eager to learn about communication, about concepts of civic engagement, about taking a bigger step in the protection of their communities.

None of those engagements would have happened without ABS-CBN’s regional news bureaus. 

They are irreplaceable. Let me repeat that: irreplaceable.
They provided timely, crucial information in some of the poorest and most disaster-prone provinces. 

But they did more than that. 

As the Palawan Pagasa folks note, the regional bureau’s engagement with government and civic bodies also pushed the latter to improve their communication skills and service standards, and make their fields of expertise more understandable for the public. 

Three years with BMPM, touching base with regions for citizen journ workshops: story-telling for your community; disaster reporting and training for frontline response work; election monitoring and volunteer work for help stations — name a theme and the news bureaus would swing into action. 

Trajectory of lives that matter

It was impossible not to feel the blaze of hope seeing regional news staff help bayan patrollers not just in reporting complaints, but in taking control of initiatives for change in their communities. 

My experience with BMPM is the reason why no amount of bad times and troll armies will shake my belief in our people. 

Under Weng Caranza Paraan, current BMPM head, the regional news bureaus did even more in terms of public service. A hundred times more. 

I could hardly keep track with Weng. She’d pop up in one province and swing into one more and then another — under the most difficult of conditions. 

There was a time when BMPM made me live literally in a suitcase or a few of these that were always ready for travels.

Weng’s trajectory in more than five years is the trajectory of the lives of our people in the provinces. I joked one time that she could be Interior Secretary, given the intimate ground knowledge she had built up over the years. 

The regional news bureau were always immersed in the activities of BMPM and the public service department. 

There was no scene of mass suffering that lacked for care and aid.

But post-disaster aid was only part of the regional bureaus’ achievements and service.

Their work in preparing communities for disasters was even more important to the goal of saving lives. 

Reporting on their lives

I am a promdi, with full affinity with the regional news bureaus. For the last few decades, I’ve been more a visiting promdi. 

The staff of the regional news bureaus reported on what their families also experienced, day in, day out. 

When earthquakes happened, their homes fell down, too. 

When Yolanda, Peping and any number of typhoons lashed at provinces, their kin died, too; they also lost their homes. When war broke out, their relatives made the trek to refugee centers — and their relatives also organized aid. Sometimes, their relatives fought on one side or another. Sometimes a family would have members on opposing sides. 

From this reality sprang passion, dedication, and commitment. 
Our regional communities will all be the more vulnerable for the shutdown of the news bureaus. 

This is something those who believed Duterte’s sneers at “imperial Manila” should realize. He is as imperial as any leader from Luzon. He is even more dangerous because of the blandishments that made the desperate and those chafing at social and political inequities grab at the tails of his checkered shirts. 

You see the trajectory of COVID-19 suffering? That’s the legacy of imperial Manila under Duterte.

Heartlands of our people

The loss of ABS-CBN’s free broadcast, initially temporary but made permanent with the rejection of its franchise extension, killed the regional news operations. 

Not only has Duterte silenced a key avenue of critical information for communities; he has also cut off a platform that helped communities express their plight and their ideas for change. 

But we in the capital lose big time, too. 

The regions are the heart of this nation, where the salt of the earth till the land and fish the waters and dig the soil that provide for our food and comforts.

Even with other radio stations around, the new vacuum makes for a very dangerous world.

We would largely be blind, with other the official government sources holding sway and, given their track records, forcing on us an alternate, often malicious, picture of events.

Without the heart, we in the capital may prattle and preen and strut around with bombast, and show off our brilliance and accents and privilege; we would only be half full or even less.

As ABS-CNN regional news bureaus turn dark, that inky blackness is the hole that Duterte punched into the national soul.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.