By SOL VANZI
Filipina TV news producers/videographers Angelita Aguirre and Charie Villa broke several glass ceilings when they successfully joined the exciting world of broadcast journalism, covering manmade and natural disasters, armed conflicts and political upheavals in the Philippines and around the world for major international news agencies.
Their excellent job performance after the EDSA People Power uprising proved that gender should not be a criteria for hiring anyone, and opened the doors to opportunities in one of the last professions Filipinos traditionally reserved for men.
For women only
When I entered journalism in 1963, women were confined to writing positions in the arts, show business, fashion, and social events sections of newspapers and magazines. Although I wanted to be a police reporter like my idol Rod Reyes, I became an art critic for a women’s magazine just to get a foot in the door, a long way from crashing and exposing an opium den.
Months later, a slot opened as legman for the male correspondent covering the violent Ilocos Sur elections. It meant months of dangerous work, with not even a byline. But the experience was invaluable.
Broadcast ends bias
Broadcast journalism was at its infancy, with the Lopez and Roces giant media empires competing to be top tri-media conglomerate. ABS-CBN coverage was supported by veteran newsmen of the Manila Chronicle. The Roces group led with a tight Manila Times–Channel 5–DZMT team working like clockwork. The Channel 5 News Department, although headed by a male, shone with its brilliant, flawless English newscast The Big News, thanks to writer Marita Manuel. ABS had a lot of catching up to do.
Unlike print media, broadcast allowed women to cover everything: plane crashes, the Ruby Tower collapse, typhoons, government offices. After two years with Channel 5, I joined ABS-CBN news, produced and wrote The World Tonight, and became the first female member of the Malacañang Press Corps. In between, I covered the Vietnam War, Palestinian guerrillas, and interviewed Yasser Arafat. Change was in the air.
Beyond pretty faces
On TV screens, women graduated from being weather girls to co-anchors of the major newscasts. Weather girls like Maria Vargas and Charisse Garcia later moved on to become leaders in their chosen field. Vargas, now Maria Montelibano, became an independent TV producer and later headed the Radio-TV Malacanang (RTVM) department for many years. Garcia, now Charisse Chuidian, rose to become one of the country’s leading hotel public relations executives. Both remain active in their fields.
Occupying traditionally male-held positions, two female former broadcast journalists now serve as spokespersons of the country’s largest airline companies: Cielo Villaluna of Philippine Airlines and Charo Logarta Lagamon for Cebu Pacific.
Wit and charm
Late evening TV talk shows hosted by newspaper legends like Louie Beltran, Max Soliven, and Ka Doroy Valencia faced tough competition with the launch of Tell the People hosted by witty, impish Jullie Yap Daza.
Jullie displayed something the male hosts could not match: beauty and charm, which balanced her sharp, well-researched commentary.
By 1975, I was covering Philippine news events for ABC News, receiving orders from Ted Koppel, Hong Kong bureau chief. As head of ABC News operations in Manila, I joined the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) and was at the same level as Ben David (NBC News), Gabby Tabunar (CBS), Vic Maliwanag (UPI), Teddy Benigno (Agence France Press), and Mike Marabut (Reuters). Majority of FOCAP members were male.
Today, FOCAP is no longer a male-dominated organization. It has had female presidents and counts females among its most active, competitive, and popular members.
After the 1983 assassination of Ninoy Aquino, the anti-Marcos media, sometimes referred to as “mosquito press,” was joined by many young intelligent new female graduates. They were welcomed by radical editors who did not share the old generation’s macho bias.
The 1986 Snap Election campaign saw a new army of journalists, many of them female. For personal reasons, they preferred to cover candidate Cory Aquino and left the older generation to cover Ferdinand Marcos’ campaign.
With Aquino installed as President after the 1986 EDSA upheaval, the staid poker-playing senior all-male Malacañang Press Corps was replaced by a fresh batch of 20-something girls lovingly nicknamed The Brat Pack. Many of them rose to become editors, publishers, analysts, book authors, award-winning crusaders.
Proud Filipinas all, they are not done yet. Women now head TV news and public affairs, newspapers, advertising, and public relations agencies, are photo journalists and layout artists. Name the position and there’s a woman in it. It took a while, but we’re getting there.