SUPERTYPHOON YOLANDA not only devastated lives and properties in Eastern Visayas, it also cut a wide swathe through the sector that had been giving a voice to the region: The Eastern Visayas media.
Since much of the public infrastructure and private property in the region has been destroyed by the supertyphoon, the local media community is struggling to get back on its feet against daunting odds.
With no stable power supply and many of their equipment washed out or destroyed, many of the local media outfits in the affected areas have been forced to stop publication or broadcast, according to Ricky Bautista, editor of the Samar Weekly Express.
Local journalists now try to eke out a living by acting as guides for the national and international media agencies that have swooped down on the region to cover the Yolanda tragedy. Other than that, there is no work available for the local media, and no way to put food on the table, Bautista said.
In fact, some colleagues have taken on odd jobs to survive. One radio broadcaster, Bausta said, is now peddling fish in Tacloban City in order to feed his family because his radio station has stopped operations.
Unfortunately, even that job isn’t pulling in the money; people in the area are wary of eating fish because of all the dead and unclaimed bodies still scattered in the coastal areas of the region.
“My colleagues in media have not been able to work, because we no longer have a media outlet,” Bautista said in Filipino. “There is no certainty when we can all go back to work again.”
“I saw (a colleague) peddling fish so that he can move on,” Bautista added. “Only a fourth of his house is still standing after the typhoon, because he lived near the sea. I was luckier – only a fourth of my house was destroyed.”
Baustista’s newspaper, the Samar Weekly Express, was forced to shut down because Yolanda devastated both Basey town where Bautista is based, and Tacloban City where the newspaper is published. As well, the storm forced the closure of the Leyte-Samar Daily Express, the mother newspaper of Bautista’s weekly paper. In its website, the last entry of the Leyte-Samar Daily Express was dated November 6, two days before Yolanda made landfall.
At least five media workers in the region were killed as a result of typhoon Yolanda, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines. Some of the casualties were radio reporters and anchors who were doing their jobs reporting the arrival of the typhoon when they were killed by the storm surge.
Other than that, scores of Visayas journalists were left homeless and jobless after the typhoon tore through the region. Printing presses and broadcast studios were damaged or destroyed, laptops and computers were rendered inoperable by the floods, files and records were lost.
The few local news agencies that had been able to resume operations were only able to do so because they have a tie-up with the giant national news agencies that are based in Manila, Bautista said. Otherwise, the local media community is, for all intents and purposes, dead in the water, he said.
Right now, Bautista said, many of the local journalists just hang around near the Leyte park, hoping to be hired as a local guide for the many international and national media agencies that have flown in. Others act as translators for foreign relief organizations that have set up shop in Tacloban.
Unfortunately, everyone knows that this would only be a temporary affair; in the next few weeks, there would be less need for such guides as media and relief agencies start scaling down their operations. When that happens, the local media community would have to scramble to make ends meet .
“They have been asking me, are there any more jobs?” Bautista said of his colleagues. “This is the only job we know.”
The pressing need now is for the local media to make a living and put food on the table. Bautista, the editor, says he is now surviving on relief goods and the kindness of colleagues visiting from Manila. The one time he was able to get a job was when he was hired by the New York Times as a guide, but that stint only lasted for two days.
The long-term problem is how the region’s media will be able to get back on its feet. The scale of the destruction is so breathtakingly massive that no one can say with any degree of certainty what the long term impact of the tragedy will have on the Eastern Visayan media. Too much infrastructure and personal property has been damaged or destroyed for anyone to make an educated guess.
For his part, Bautista says, all he hopes to have soon is a stable supply of electricity. Once that is in place, Bautista says, then perhaps they can start thinking of tomorrow, and the day after.
“All I want is for the electricity to return,” Bautista said. “That is where it all starts. If electricity returns, then my life will resume again, and we can have a semblance of a normal life, and we can write and report again. That is the time we can start to move on.”