Environmental journalists in action: covering rehabilitation efforts in Cagayan de Oro City (photo by EV Espiritu)
By Prime Sarmiento
(This blog post was written in support of Natalie Sisson’s Human Powered Awesome project**)
Environmental journalism is a thankless job. In a country obsessed with politics, basketball and showbiz, reporting on “esoteric” topics like climate change, biodiversity or deforestation, is not the easiest way to persuade people to read (or watch) your work.
But if you view the journalism profession as something more than a career path but as an advocacy, a means to channel your passion, a means to lead the so-called purpose-driven life, then this may be the job for you.
Having that “sense of purpose” is something that I nary think about these past few years, as I’m desk-bound and caught up with the day-to-day duty of monitoring breaking news and editing stories sent by stringers. Life is too busy for a session of navel gazing.
But sometimes, I get out of the office, do the occasional field work, and in the end, I get to remember why I became a journalist.
One of those times occurred in January, when I joined my colleagues at the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists, Inc. for a media visit to the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. *** Our purpose is to see and report on how residents are coping and rebuilding from the floods that deluged their cities just a week before Christmas.
Tropical storm Washi (local name: “Sendong”) brought heavy rains that inundated the two southern Philippine cities. Washi claimed over 1,000 lives, displaced hundreds of families and damaged millions of pesos worth of property.
Reports indicate that illegal logging combined with the lack of disaster preparation are the main culprits that caused one of the worst tragedies to hit the Philippines in recent history.
That PNEJ's environmental journalists are going to Cagayan de Oro one month AFTER the tragedy may seem odd – at least in terms of its news-worthiness. In December, when news of the tragedy was still a hot issue, hundreds of local and international journalists came here to report on the casualties and damages. No news consumer can miss the disaster coverage – you can read about it in the newspaper, get it from your Twitter feed, watch a live TV coverage.
The media have since left, focusing their attention on the next hottest topic (this time it’s the impeachment trial of the country’s Chief Justice). But for us PNEJ members, media coverage doesn’t end with reports on casualties and damages. There are stories about how are people rebuilding their lives and this is what we intend to write about.
Tent City in Cagayan de Oro: People would love to move on and rebuild their lives
So that’s what we did and spent one exhausting weekend of interviewing local officials, residents, businessmen and development workers. We also visited relief centers and temporary relocation sites (a.k.a. tent cities). Here are bits of stories that we gathered:
— That people are getting on their lives. They might be mourning for family members who died and houses they lost, but they’re willing to start again and refused to be defeated by this tragedy.
— That they need more than temporary relocation but a means to rebuild their lives destroyed by tragedy – new homes, livelihood, health care
— That private companies, non-profits and local officials can work together to rehabilitate the two cities
— That we can no longer ignore the issue of deforestation – Washi will happen again if we continue to take abuse our natural environment.
— That local government need to implement a comprehensive disaster prevention/mitigation plan because we don’t need another type of tragedy.
We have since reported these stories. They might not have been be front page material, but we know that, no matter what, these stories need to be told if only to remind everyone – the government, the private sector, non profits, private citizens – why we shouldn’t let this to happen again and what can de be done, to keep it from happening again.
This is my purpose. The reason why I’m in this profession. Working as an environmental journalist with a sense of purpose is indeed an act of Human Powered Awesome!
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*This post was cross posted in PNEJ’s website.
**The Human Powered Awesome project was launched by suitcase entrepreneur Natalie Sisson to raise $10,000 for Women Win – a charity that aims to give girls and women more rights and confidence through sport.
Natalie will be going on a Tour d'Afrique – an epic bike ride adventure to cycle 6,445 kilometers from Nairobi to Capetown – to raise funds for Women Win. If you ‘re interested to support Natalie’s charity bike run, you can start by donating to Women Win.
*** Disclosure: PNEJ’s media visit in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities was sponsored by the Holcim Philippines, Oxfam and the office of Albay Governor Joey Salceda.