Only in the Philippines!
I recall visiting areas in Central Luzon during super typhoons or Habagat seasons. I would be on board a banca or a six-by-six truck filled with relief goods, and the residents would wade through the waters. Yet they were all smiles as they waved at our television cameras.
“Only in the Philippines,” people would say.
Kakaiba. This is what’s unique among us Filipinos. We manage to smile, no matter what our current circumstances are. How quickly evacuees adjust to classrooms occupied by four other families with none of the comforts of their own space. They are simply happy knowing that the whole family is accounted for despite the super typhoon, fire, or landslide that just happened.
“Paano ninyo nakukuhang ngumiti?” I ask them.
I get a consistent reply. “Ang mahalaga kumpleto ang pamilya,” they reply, teary- eyed.
That’s what enables them to smile.
As for me, I was not born pleasant and I am even closer to what you can call a brat. In our travels abroad, my Mama Elaine had to force the six-year-old me to look at the camera and smile. Photos from our trip would show that it was an epic fail.
My brothers told me that when I was young, I would lock myself in my room the whole day and not go out. It was just me and my diary. I had only one best friend in grade school, and when I reached high school, it was good that I made some friends and became active in school.
I am not antisocial, but I prefer mingling with a select set of friends. Given the choice, I would rather be left alone.
But work changed me big time.
I have always felt favored in my career on television, as if everything just flowed or fell into place.
I auditioned in IBC-13 just to give it a shot. “To have no what-ifs!” was how a college friend encouraged me to go. Weirdly, I got the job as a midnight news reader. I was the most “un-anchor” looking person in the long queue of applicants in my white buttoned-up shirt with almost no makeup and hair clipped in a half- ponytail. Skeptical that I would be accepted, I just enjoyed the whole experience. Five months later, I auditioned and got hired in GMA-7 immediately as a news reader. This is not the usual route, I suppose. I always had the impression that you had to start at the most junior position before you go on cam. But I was on cam first, and then I applied as a production assistant. Instead, my boss assigned me to the graveyard shift to do reportorial fieldwork, and then I became a segment producer. My boss then recommended me to be part of The Probe Team.
My boss in GMA-7 called me “trainable,” and that’s how I landed in Probe Productions, a small production outfit known for its award-winning investigative work. This was, in my humble opinion, also the best training ground for journalists.
In the unexpected turn of events in my career-from business administration to journalism—I recall a conversation on Quezon Avenue when I did my college term paper on street children. The strawberry vendor mistook me for a social worker doing interviews. He complained that all social workers do is interview them.
“Malay mo, kuya, someday, I will meet someone who can help you,” I told him.
And then I became the first fairy godmother on Philippine television through GMA-7. It was my biggest break, and this made me a household name. An actress was the first choice for the show, but I ended up getting it. It was a brief stint of a year and a half because I resigned from GMA-7 (the station preterminated the contract of Probe because of an investigative report that I did), but it lingered. Wish Ko Lang stuck to me—as a brand, yes, but more than that, the work that we did stayed in my heart.
I don’t take my fame lightly. I am sure God allowed all this to happen in my career not for my sake but for others. It would not make sense at all if it were solely for my benefit. So, yes, I allowed myself to be an instrument of God’s love for others in whatever way I can. Early on, I knew we couldn’t help everyone, but I can listen, and listen well.
And yes, I smile a lot at people. My sense of purpose in my God-given profession drew me out of my cave, my so-called comfort zone.