Maria Lourdes "Nini"B. Cabaero, a journalist based in Cebu has had a rollercoaster ride in life during 2020. The Australian Filipina noted postings in social media about her receiving the Newsmaker of the Year in the Globe Media Excellence Awards (GMEA) 2020. We sent her a note to share information about the award as we believe in celebrating achievements and inspiring stories of kababayans.
In the course of our exchanges, TAF found out that part of the work recognised by the award was her writing about contracting COVID 19 herself and being hospitalised for it.
From her near death experience, she recovered fully and lived to talk about it and subsequently received the Newsmaker of the Year Award. Nini takes us through her momentous ups and downs last year.
COVID 19 VICTIM
It was my house companion who got infected first. She’s our kasambahay who has been with the family for over 40 years and is now with me ever since my parents died in 2015. We don’t know where she got infected by the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). It could have been at the market, while sending money to the province or when delivering orders for the peanuts we were selling in our subdivision. That’s one thing about Covid. You do not really know where or how you get it. You can get it from anywhere. This is the reason we have to always protect ourselves by wearing a mask, face shield, keeping our distance when in public and washing our hands frequently.
After she was found positive of the virus, she was picked up by the city ambulance and brought to the government hospital. She had been coughing for a week and started having difficulty in breathing.
I was left on my own at home in isolation. Two days after she was brought to the hospital, I started having a high fever. It was a different kind of fever because my temperature went up in such a short period of time. Another two days after, I started having back pains and diarrhoea. After two more days, my back pains turned into chest pains. I continued to have high fever. That night, I had shortness of breath, I couldn’t move around or have the strength to prepare my meal, and, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t sleep. I was weak and afraid. My oxygen level went down to 94 and then to 92 that night.
The next day, I decided to contact my doctor and then I asked for the city ambulance to bring me to the emergency room. I had moderate COVID pneumonia but my condition worsened at the hospital when I had cytokine storm, a blood reaction to fighting COVID that made my blood thick and prone to dangerous clots.
My condition then was considered as severe. I started feeling better after five days but I stayed for another five days while they monitored my blood.
It was a life changing experience that made me realize what is important. My life, my health, my family and loved ones. Most of all, my trust in God who never abandoned me even now as I continue to struggle with the fear of getting sick again.
I have friends and relatives who have been infected by the virus. Some of them died of Covid-19. We need to take the virus seriously. It is no joke. Getting sick of COVID-19 is an experience I would not wish on others. It is dangerous, you can die of it, and it will make you lonely because no one else can be with you as you struggle to get well and survive.
We need to trust in the science and the scientists. If the FDA approves it and I am eligible, I will have myself vaccinated. You should also have yourself vaccinated by whatever approved vaccine is available. With the cases going up again, we need to protect each other.
The Newsmaker Award and other Achievements
Yes, I won as Newsmaker of the Year in the Globe Media Excellence Awards (GMEA) 2020. The GMEA is an awards program of Globe Telecom to recognize excellence in the community press.
To be honest, I was at first confused with the “newsmaker of the year” award because journalists are the ones who write the news. We are not in the news. We’re the one doing the interviewing and staying behind the camera, not in front of it. A newsmaker is the one we write about. But I guess the organizers, Globe Telecom, wanted to focus on how our work had an impact on others.
I won the award because of an “impactful body of work “ in the year 2020, in particular my news articles after I survived having Covid-19. My articles got passed around and received a lot of social media interaction. I got interviewed. Same as here. Other than my COVID stories, I was recognised for being responsible for the digital transformation of community newspapers under the SunStar network.
My other achievement was in getting the fellowship to spend one academic year at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the US. My SunStar editor, Atty. PachicoSeares, nominated me for the fellowship. I got in with the help of the Ninoy and Cory Aquino Foundation, the Sandra Burton journalism fund and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.
Being in the community press has its advantages and disadvantages. Advantages are that we are close to our community, we know our community well. The disadvantages are that we have fewer resources, lower compensation and limited access to training and support unlike our counterpart in national publications.
I was lucky to have access to training and advanced learning opportunities for my master’s degree at the Ateneo and for my one-year fellowship at Harvard University. But, how about the others?
The Harvard Experience
The first time I visited Harvard University was years before I was awarded the fellowship. My family was on vacation in the US and we visited Harvard. I remember touching the brick wall of a building right behind the statue of John Harvard at the square and saying to myself that I will study here some day. Well, I did.
My year at Harvard was amazing. As Nieman fellow at Harvard, I took courses at the Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The program managed by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard allowed me to take courses on, among others, the future of news, online economy (strategy and entrepreneurship), new media and democracy, media and power in the digital age, negotiation, and leadership. My classmates were among the most intelligent in the world and came from different backgrounds. I had as classmates the officers of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) of the US, scientists and children of business and political leaders from different countries.
While at Harvard, I also learned to play poker, tried games of squash, and enjoyed badminton as a member of the Harvard Badminton Club.
What Harvard really taught me was to be open to new ideas and new situations and to do the best we can to inform and educate others.
My fellowship was supported by the Sandra Burton fund. Burton was the Hong Kong bureau chief of Time Magazine who accompanied Ninoy Aquino on his flight home to Manila on August 21, 1983. She reported on the assassination of Aquino and the political turmoil triggered by his death as well as the events that led to the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in February 1986. She continued to report on the democratic transition and the presidency of Cory Aquino.
Burton passed away on February 27, 2004 and left a scholarship fund to the Aquino Foundation to support the study of Filipino journalists in the US.
I must have meet Burton in one of her trips to Cebu with Cory Aquino. I never imagined our roads would cross again, and in this manner.
What I know is that Burton and the Aquinos stood for democracy, for the empowerment of all sectors, including communities far from the nation’s capital. That is the reason I have stayed in Cebu. I could have easily found a better-paying job in Manila but instead I stayed in Cebu to be withmy community.
During my Harvard year, I was asked to speak before the Nieman community and some Harvard professors to focus on one question – Why I do what I do. It took some reflection and self-discovery to answer that.
As I said earlier, I was born into a big family who protected and pampered me throughout my growing up years. As youngest, you are not expected to have a voice. You hold back, try not to question authority. It’s about the hierarchy in the family which is reflective of the hierarchy in society and politics. It’s highly paternalistic.
Journalism was a way for me to do the opposite. Through journalism I opened my eyes to reality, to what is happening to my community, country and the world. I saw how people small in stature are voiceless. I give them voice when I report on their issues and present these to government.In journalism I saw life’s realities, the poverty, abuses and the helplessness of others.I feel for the people who cannot stand up and speak for themselves. So, I do what I do.
If there is anything I could change of what happened in the past, I would have come straight to Cebu immediately after college.
I was born in Manila but I grew up in Cebu when my family transferred here in 1966. I had my elementary and high school education here. In college, I started in Cebu but moved after my first year to UP in Diliman to pursue what I truly love, journalism.
After college, upon the insistence of my parents who have moved back to Manila by then, I looked for employment in Manila. I was hired as information officer for a prestigious insurance company with offices along Ayala Avenue in Makati. I was paid well, provided with medical benefits that covered my parents as well, and was told I can get a housing unit after five years. I lasted only six months. When I learned that a newspaper was hiring, I applied and got in.
That newspaper job brought me back to Cebu when I was assigned by my editors to cover the ongoing rebellion trial here of opposition leaders at the time before the Edsa People Power Revolution.
I never left Cebu even since for anything permanent.
Other than that, I don’t think there is anything I would have changed in my career.
Post Retirement Plans
I turned 60 this February 11. The company, SunStar, has extended my employment until the end of the month. From March 1, I continued with SunStar as Consultant. This will keep me busy still but with more time to do what I want. What is that?
I want to sleep more in the next few weeks. Try to regain my health. Then, I try out new things. One thing I’ve been wanting to be is a singer. I love to sing. Although I haven’t really done it yet. Hahaha.
Seriously, I want to be involved still in journalism. I teach a journalism course right now at the Ateneo. I hope to continue with that. I want to be able to help train journalists, especially those in the community press, to do what they’re supposed to do.
ABOUT NINI CABAERO
Maria Lourdes "Nini" was born in Manila, Philippines, on February 11, 1961. She turned 60 this year and has retired.
Nini took up AB Journalism at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, and MA Journalism at the Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University.
She is the only journalist in a family of bankers and business people. She was number 10 in the 11 children in the family, and the youngest among the daughters. She shares that in a way she was pampered and protected, being the youngest among the women and the smallest in the family.
Her family didn’t think there was money in a journalism career. Nini said that they were right but she insisted and pursued her love for writing. She never saw herself within four walls for eight hours a day, five days a week.