Saturday, July 5, 2008

Is a News Story Worth Dying for? (The Ces Drilon Hostage Drama)

I already mentioned before that there was a time in my distant past when I got to work with the now-famous ABS-CBN senior reporter Ces Oreña Drilon. I got to know Ces as a go-getter, a "babaeng bakla," and a woman who knows no boundaries when running after a story. These are all the ingredients that made Ces the respected broadcaster she is today.

However, this time Ces has finally recognized her own boundaries.


I think it was last June 9 when I first heard the news about the abduction of Ces and her news crew in Sulu. When ABS-CBN initially aired the news about their missing crew without giving too much detail, the first thing that came into my mind was, "Uh-oh, Ces has really done it this time."

Ces has survived so many life-threatening situations in the past but this time, I was really doubting that she was going to successfully get out of this recent scrape alive. She outran a cascading pyroclastic cloud during the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption. She escaped a fiery death after their OBB van was tipped over and set on fire by thugs. She braved tear gas during the more recent Manila Peninsula siege. All these instances paled in comparison to her brush with the terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf. Basing my idea on past reports of Abu Sayyaf hostage takings that usually ended up in one fine bloody mess, I was fearing the worst for Ces and her companions. I mean, this is a freaking terrorist group we're talking about here, not a volcano or a bunch of disgruntled military officers.

All throughout the crisis, the combined forces of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the PNP (Philippine National Police) as well as senior executives of the News and Public Affairs Division of ABS-CBN stood firm on their no-ransom policy. However, days after the release, news floated among media circles that there was actually an exchange of ransom money amounting to millions just to get the hostages out of the terrorists' lair. Whatever the truth is regarding this, we will never know.

Everyone sighed in relief after Ces et al were released about ten days after their abduction. However, another personality stepped into the limelight: Sen. Loren Legarda. While some were suspicious of Loren's presence in the resolution of the hostage crisis, I'd like to believe that Loren was there not as a politician but as Ces' long-time friend and former ABS-CBN colleague.

Ces later revealed that there was treachery involved in their abduction. Apparently, someone literally "fed them to the lions," so to say. At present, the father-and-son tandem of the Isnajis -- a political clan in Sulu -- who acted as negotiators are now being suspected as being in cahoots with the hostage-takers.


What struck me the most about this entire hostage crisis was Ces' admission that she became too bold and reckless in her desire to get a good story. She went to Sulu with plans to interview a notorious rebel, and in the process of getting a news exclusive, she eventually ended up becoming the news. "It was a humbling experience," she said as she wiped away tears during their first press con after their release.

Ces learned her lesson the hard way. But have other gung-ho journalists learned theirs?

The local media has many other journalists out there who may probably be more ambitious than Ces. They are the kind who would destroy their own friends or would even kill just to get ahead on the news. I know some of these people, but I'd rather not name them. They know who they are.


From what I remember in media ethics, a journalist should know whether or not to divulge certain information they come upon. The easiest way to determine whether to come out with potentially-dangerous news items or not is through asking oneself: how many people will benefit from this information? If a vast majority is bound to benefit from one's information, much to the detriment of a few, then this news item is worth pursuing and releasing.

However, such a rule also has its limitations. If a media person's life becomes at stake with the release of potentially-dangerous information, then this mortality factor must seriously be considered. This is something the ABS-CBN news team overlooked in their ill-fated visit to Sulu -- their safety.

I have always believed in the tenet that there is no market for dead professionals, no matter how brilliant or dedicated they are. The same tenet goes to our over-zealous media people. However, I'd rather let my school mentor and former dean of the UP College of Mass Communication, Prof. Luis Teodoro, put it more eloquently: "There is no news story that's worth giving one's life for."

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