By Arianne Christian Tapao
In the last months of 2013, the nation had been crying, almost endlessly.
As the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) continued that November, tombstones replaced the soil on which the natives of Visayas would have lived. Families failed to recognize dead bodies. Survivors came from everywhere, ransacking abandoned buildings in search of something to eat.
Nov. 8, 2013 remains in history as the day the strongest typhoon hit Philippine territory.
Amidst all the rubble, however, is a media worker who has seen everything as she was, after all, a victim herself.
Radio journalist Francisca Custodio lost an announcer and technician during the storm. Tacloban, Leyte, where she has lived and worked as radio station manager all her life, was not an exception to the casualties.
“Do we have a future? May trabaho pa ba kami?” a distressed Custodio then found herself asking.
And yet, two days later, due to an unabating duty to reconnect distraught survivors with their loved ones, her station somehow managed to get on air. When she asked if her employees would be willing to work without pay, all of them said yes.
As recipient of this year’s annual Gawad Plaridel, UP College of Mass Communication (CMC) bestows the award to the station manager who would be best known for preserving cultural heritage by keeping Siday, a traditional Waray poetry and an important expression of regional identity, on air through the years.
Two and a half years since the calamity, Custodio is happy to be chosen for something she enjoys doing as what would be a lifetime work.
Heartily, Custodio jested: “I hope I won’t disappoint UP.”
Born on June 6, 1946, 70-year-old Francisca Custodio, “Ate Babes” to her friends, has by no means foreseen a career in media.
Indeed, the early years of her professional track offered no signs. Seven years before finishing a business management degree from the Divine Word University in Tacloban, Custodio had already juggled work as a clerk-typist while studying a one-year vocational program.
“Actually by accident lang ang pagkapasok ko as a broadcaster,” she quipped. “I wasn’t even allowed to say the time check!”
Like all serendipitous stories, a radio announcer once could not make it at the time so Custodio stood by. It was only until much later that she was given an actual opportunity to be on air.
“Siguro they found my Waray-Waray flawless, kinuha na nila ako,” she said.
From being a clerk, Custodio gradually rose through the ranks as a radio announcer and eventually became Manila Broadcasting Company AM Station DYVL’s manager for around 22 years now, giving her ample time to innovate the medium for listeners.
DYVL-Tacloban reaches the airwaves of the whole of Eastern Visayas and hears sentiments from a good number of audiences. Although tackling national issues as well, the station mainly confronts the daily local grind.
Like national dailies, too, she said criticisms do not evade the community radio. Sometimes, she said audiences do not entirely agree with the station’s opinions on issues.
For this, her mantra remains undeterred. “Sabi nila, ‘Media should not take sides,’ pero dito, we should take sides—the right side,” she said.
Her station also listened to constructive criticism, like how people commented on announcers’ voices or how they handle banter over the radio. All these anchored on the notion that giving power to listeners is always priority.
The same stance fueled what would come to be her legacy: Bringing back the dying local literature, Siday, on DYVL.
“Through the use of a form that is close to the people, she has turned the medium of radio into a two-way communication, where listeners are given opportunities to be heard as well,” UP CMC said in its press release.
Interestingly, Custodio said the Siday that brought voice to several Visayans had originally been planned as just a quirk to engage listeners more.
“We encouraged the audience to participate by sending their own publonganon (quotable quotes),” she said. Apparently, through time, Custodio was surprised when contributors started submitting not just short lines, but actual poems.
More, the sentiments of these pieces hinged on social issues that affect the contributor’s community.
The station managed to get sponsors for chosen pieces albeit small, but she said, “Contributors didn’t mind if there was a prize. They want to hear their work and their names.”
True enough, the practice which eventually went on for 29 years has been participated by all walks of life: be it “a janitor, a farmer, or a fisher,” she said.
This contest of sorts became so successful that the best ones were picked by the station to be included in a book, titled, “Siday Han DYVL,” an effort in cooperation with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
“Naging parang voice box kami ng sentiments ng mga tao,” Custodio said, satisfied.
Alas, even the best things come to an end.
When typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines that day, the wealth of Siday entries just resting in their office were all lost, along with their equipment and facilities.
For more than two years now, Siday has not returned on the airwaves yet. The art of listening to the people’s grievances, however, remains.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, DYVL set up a station in Palo, Leyte where luckily, their transmitters were spared. Although time was limited from 18 to 12 hours due to lack of electricity, people got to communicate with separated family members, she said, helping them unite on the airwaves.
More, Custodio said as false stories of raiding and a possibility of tsunamis quickly escalated panic among people, it became the reporter’s duty “to look for the truth and confirm whether these stories are false.”
This was especially hard since even the reporters suffered great losses themselves.
“For quite some time, a month, I did not go on the air kasi bumabalik sa akin ‘yung nangyari,” lamented Custodio, who then worked while grieving the death of her two co-workers.
Like Siday, DYVL’s Tacloban station has never fully recovered yet, two and a half years at present.
But though it seems difficult to find a silver lining in the impediment, Custodio said the station is hopeful and gradually recovering.
True enough, Custodio said by September, the station is holding a workshop for all Siday contributors as way of thanking them, adding that they are still collating enough contributions from audiences before the radio segment could resume.
There are grand plans for the station, too. Custodio’s long-term vision is to acquire state-of-the-art equipment and hopefully expand the radio’s reach beyond Region 8.
All these, she said, against the stark reality that much like Siday, radio now seemed like an “endangered species” as social media has already become a necessity.
Despite these, the station manager is more than elated. To her, there is a sense of “fulfillment,” in getting to know people through the radio.
“It makes me whole,” she said. “Knowing na okay sila, ‘yan ang nakakapagbigay sa akin ng happiness.”
Tomorrow, the woman who stands on the podium will be nervous. She is bringing the name of Visayas after all, she said, before an intimidating audience of professors and professionals. Custodio follows along the line of Ricky Lee, Pete Lacaba and Nora Aunor, to new a few, and all media personalities with a good deal to back them up.
While she may be known for preserving cultural heritage through the broadcast medium, less known is that tomorrow, Custodio not only stands on a podium as a trailblazer, but even more: a Visayan woman who, through radio journalism, let the voice of humanity’s resilience be heard—even against the strongest odds.
“Kapag nakita ka ng tao na down, pati sila nada-down,” she said. “I have to show my people, maski ako babae, I have to stand up.”#
(Photo grabbed from the UP College of Mass Communication Facebook page.)