A memorable day

I wrote this biography of the veteran broadcaster Tina Monzon Palma after she was selected to receive the prestigious Gawad Plaridel Award given to an exemplary media practitioner. This piece was published in the souvenir program for the event produced by the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, and later in the academic publication, the Plaridel Journal. The piece leads off with events that happened exactly 32 years ago today, Dec 1, 1989. In the photo are Tina Monzon Palma with UP executives on the stage as she receives the UP Gawad Plaridel. Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

It was the ringing of the telephone that awakened me at around 1:00 a.m. of Friday, Dec. 1, 1989. My boss, Tina Monzon Palma, was calling.

“Come to work. There’s a coup,” she said and hung up. No hello, no goodbye, no further instructions. I was then a television reporter for GMA-7 and I did as I was told, no questions asked.

Minutes later, I was at the GMA-7 newsroom which was then just a bungalow in the network’s compound on EDSA in Quezon City. A small group had gathered, composed mostly of those who Tina could reach by landline, since mobile phones did not yet exist and some of the staff’s walkie-talkie units were turned off and being charged for the night. 

She gave senior reporter Jimmy Gil and myself keys to the news vehicles and asked us to drive them out of the compound to safety, in case the station was attacked. And then we were back at the newsroom, listening to her telling us how we were going to cover the story.

The story was the attempt by rebel solders to seize power in December 1989, the bloodiest challenge to the leadership of Corazon Aquino, the country’s first female president. That coup tested Tina’s capabilities as well. TMP, as she was addressed, was then 39 years old and senior vice president of GMA-7 News, the first female to hold that position and at that time the only woman at the helm of a national TV news division in the Philippines. 

Tina’s responsibility was to help secure the broadcast facilities of GMA-7 against a possible attack by rebel soldiers. But she also wanted to make sure the network stayed on the air to broadcast stories about the coup, to the consternation of Malacañang and military officials who chastised her for giving rebel soldiers precious airtime. 

Looking back to those days, she said she felt the public deserved to know who the government’s enemy was, although government itself disagreed and its officials kept pestering her to cease broadcast. Tina remembers having the audacity to tell them, “You do your job, and I will do my job.” 

“I was reckless and fearless,” she told a group of University of the Philippines professors in June 2017, “not because I was courageous or wanted to make a name for myself, but because nobody could really affect the way you do your job.” 

It didn’t seem like it at that time but Tina Monzon Palma was making television history. She proved that a woman could lead a TV news department competently through the most difficult times and that she could engage the powers that be in a battle of wills over what could and could not be broadcast. She eventually backed down as national security concerns prevailed, but she was paving the way for more women to assert themselves in leadership roles in broadcast news in the years to come. 

Read more here.

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