WHENEVER broadcast journalist Sandra Aguinaldo is not going to Abu Sayyaf country to cover for GMA-7, or taping on location for an assignment in I-Witness, she spends her free time with her family, tending a small garden in Angono, Rizal, or scuba diving out of town. She considers these a joy and a therapy. And she keeps it that way.

“Every time I’m with them (family), they always ask me questions about my work, so I have to remind them that I’d rather talk about other things than discuss the state of the economy and our political woes,” she quips.

Life isn’t easy for broadcast journalists. They risk their lives for stories in the urban as well as real jungles. A hectic schedule consumes most of their days, leaving little time for themselves and their families. But at 32, Aguinaldo has mastered balancing work and pleasure.

Little do people know that behind the sweet face that brings them the news is a courage that took root at an early age.

Letters to mother

Bereavement is a word that Aguinaldo understands all too well. Her parents died when she was very young. She was left under her aunt’s care at the latter’s house in Angono, Rizal. However, living in a noisy but happy household with her cousins didn’t make her feel like an adopted child.

Aguinaldo was the only child of Felipe (an engineer) and Irene. Her mother died when she was four years old, but even in death she still had a big influence in Aguinaldo’s life. She would write letters to her mother everyday in hope of somehow relieving her grief.

“I would write to her my childish concerns and tell her I miss her,” Aguinaldo says. “I was often caught by my grade school teachers writing stuff like, ‘mama, sana buhay ka pa.’”

What was first an everyday habit and outlet for her feelings slowly became a part of her life. Aguinaldo then realized that writing was what she wanted to do from then on.

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“I always tell people, it was my mother who taught me how to write and trained me to as a writer.”

Growing up in Angono also added to her penchant for the arts. Home of two national artists, Botong Francisco (for painting) and Maestro Lucio San Pedro (music), Angono surrounded Aguinaldo with various art works and gave her the company of artistic people.

In high school, Aguinaldo further honed her writing skills by joining their school journals and other extra-curricular activities. Her English and Filipino teachers discovered her knack for writing and urged her to continue. Under their guidance, Aguinaldo was sure that writing was indeed her calling. After high school graduation, she decided to take up Journalism in UST.

Living far from Manila, all through her college life, she had to get up extra early just to get to her classes on time. Because of the traffic, she was always tardy for her first class, usually Philosophy.

“I was quite popular for being late” she says.

Aguinaldo only has happy memories of UST. She recalls the time when she and her friends would spend their breaks at Tinoko Park or in the former Cooperative canteen talking about nothing and joking around. She even remembers her misfortunes fondly—including falling victim to a pick-pocket and braving floods in España. These experiences, she says, made her more wise and prepared for the real world. She also salutes all her professors for keeping her on the right track.

“Everything I learned from my classes helped me when I started a career in Journalism,” she said. “I enjoyed every minute of my poetry class under Dean (Ophelia) Dimalanta as well as professor Lito Zulueta‘s classes.”

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In 1993, Aguinaldo became editor in chief of The Flame, the official student journal of the Faculty of Arts and Letters, of which she had been a member since first year.

She firmly believes that UST Journalism graduates are more experienced and attuned to their craft than other schools because students are exposed to “real life” right outside the campus.

Climb to success

Right after graduating in 1993, Aguinaldo landed a job as a copywriter for an advertising agency. By August the following year, she was already covering the defense and police beats for Business World. She hit the broadcast industry in 1996 when she became the head writer of ABS-CBN’s Usapang Business. But she went back to print the next year, joining The Manila Times. Aguinaldo was assigned the Malacañang beat during her stint as senior reporter for the paper.

“Manila Times was then a hard-hitting newspaper and we always had to come up with news reports critical to former President Joseph Estrada. He allegedly pressured the owner of the paper to sell it, so we had to go, but it was a blessing in disguise for me because in a matter of weeks, I was already with GMA-7,” she added.

When she started working for GMA’s 24 Oras and Saksi, she was given difficult assignments such as the conflict areas in Mindanao, where she interviewed Abu Sayyaf and MILF officers. She also covered Israel bombings, U.S. President George Bush’s visit to the Philippines, the impeachment trial of former President Estrada, “EDSA II” and “III,” the 2004 elections, and presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr.’s death last year.

Aguinaldo now hosts I-Witness: the GMA Documentaries, with fellow reporters Howie Severino, Maki Pulido, Kara David, and Jay Taruc.

A few years ago, she attended a News Production Seminar under CNN.

“When I trained under CNN, it became very clear to me that we are lagging behind in terms of technology. The ethics and security of journalists in the Philippines need to be improved,” she said.

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Despite all the training and exposure to risky beats, she still feels fearful at times. “Journalists are also humans. When we’re in conflict areas, my bosses would always remind me ‘safety first,’ but I also know that I have to deliver the story to the people and that’s what keeps me strong.”

And Aguinaldo says she’s always hungry for scoops; if she’s able to get ahead of the competition, she’s happy.

“Kapag may istorya ako na wala sila, ang saya ko,” she said. “It is rewarding when you are able to inform people and do public service.”

She attributes her courage to the people’s right to know and to her husband, Insp. Brimar Rodica, who is always proud and supportive of her. In 1995, while covering the police beat in Camp Crame, their love story began. Rodica was assigned under then Col. Panfilo Lacson’s Task Force Habagat. However, they didn’t meet through Lacson, instead they got acquainted during a funeral in Pangasinan. On the way home, Rodica’s vehicle met a road accident. Aguinaldo and her crew passed by the scene of the car wreck.

“We rescued him and his two friends and that’s how it all started. Kaya totoo para sa akin ‘yung kantang ‘Love Moves in Mysterious Ways,’” she quips.

Blessed with a beautiful family and a successful career in the print and broadcast media, Aguinaldo now wants test new waters in the radio business. Inspired by her idol and boss, Jessica Soho, Aguinaldo also wants to go tri-media (print, TV, and radio) to cover more grounds in her pursuit of public service. Mary Joy T. De Lara, Jose Teodoro B. Mendoza, and Glaiza Marie A. Seguia

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