Field Note 07: Sulu, farewell

Patikul, Sulu

Patikul, Sulu. May 2015

I was in Sulu earlier this month on yet another assignment given on short notice and accepted with no hesitation that I want to be part of my personal brand, in as much as I believe in having personal brands.

“You wanted the best… well, they couldn’t fucking make it,” say Guns n’ Roses and also me, when I show up wherever it is they want me to show up.

I was a little weepy and nervous the first time back in Mindanao since 2012 because of tension in some areas and because there wasn’t really anyone to say goodbye to except the dogs and it is always nice to think that there is someone who isn’t family who is waiting for you to come back.

But this was my third time to go in as many months and it becomes easier each time. Besides, I had never been to Sulu (and Zamboanga, which was the next stop) and would get the chance to ride an Air Force C-130. Family and dogs could handle me being away for a few days, I figured.

We like to talk about how we’re doing public service and recording history and all that noble stuff — and those are true things — but part of the thrill of the job is getting to go to places you have never been in modes of transport that you normally wouldn’t get to do it in. There is also the possibility of dying, and not of hunger this time.

I learned several things during the trip aside from the things that I filed stories on. Like, for example, how you can get by without a laptop but not without a spare phone (preferably a BlackBerry because they are pretty much bulletproof) and the value of having SIM cards for the two telco networks in case signal is spotty. Both networks are unreliable, but thankfully will not let you down at the same time, or at least not quite in the same way.

I was also reminded of the value of having a good desk person to process and post the story.

I rarely ever file stories without checking whether names are spelled correctly and without providing as much background and context as I can, but sometimes, like when you are in a provincial city in China, or on a far-flung island province in the southern Philippines, you can’t rely on Google for verification.

Also, sometimes, you are tired and hungry and have to spend half your energy trying not to fall asleep at the press working area because public hearings tend to run for hours and we live in a humid and hot country.

The best you can do is let the desk know that you are unsure whether you heard a certain name correctly and that they will have to look up what the 1976 Tripoli Agreement was about because you are pretty much just driving blind.

Although I have been working the desk for close to two years now, I have always had trouble accepting that I will not get as many bylines as I did when I was a reporter, that I am now pretty much support staff for the people in the field.

A friend at the other network has made peace with that, and always tells me that it is time to accept that we are not the rock star reporters that we set out to be.

You have to accept that you are now at a desk job and that that will not change anytime soon, and that you have to accept the grind of checking grammar and punctuation and style because reporters don’t always have the time to do it, she keeps saying.

I get it now and the best I can really hope for now is that I do my job well enough so our reporters will feel confident that their stories are in good (though merciless) hands when I am on board.

Anyway, here is a BlackBerry-quality video of us being escorted to Jolo airport:

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