For Jamela Alin­do­gan, jour­nal­ism is more than just de­liv­er­ing the news

Her name and cred­i­bil­ity are well-de­served spoils from a hard-won bat­tle, but jour­nal­ist Jamela Alin­do­gan knows the fight for the truth is far from over


Jamela Alin­do­gan re­mem­bers an in­stance when she had only P20 in her pocket. She was still a col­lege stu­dent then, mulling over whether to buy a can of soda or take the jeep to get home. She de­cided to spend her last money on the syrupy con­coc­tion and let its fizz cool down her throat as she walked all the way home.

It was an em­blem­atic sce­nario for the now 33-yearold cor­re­spon­dent for Al Jazeera—a course of ac­tion among many that have tested her met­tle and taken her places in her more-than-a-decade long af­fair with a craft, an af­fair she de­scribes as both a life of hard­ship and a legacy.

But trac­ing Alin­do­gan’s jour­ney from her in­tern­ship days at Al Jazeera to who she is and what she does to­day would only be see­ing the process through a sim­plis­tic prism. Rather, it’s in the un­remit­ting tran­sits from one as­sign­ment to the next and the com­pound­ing im­pres­sions of each that paint a fuller pic­ture of the jour­nal­ist she has be­come.

“I’ve lived alone since I was 16 and I’ve never looked back,” Alin­do­gan re­veals. “I put my­self through school, and my cousins, too.” In col­lege, she jug­gled her stud­ies at Far East­ern Univer­sity with the work she did for the school paper, which in­volved court­side re­port­ing.

Dead set on be­com­ing a hu­man rights lawyer, just as her grand­mother had dic­tated, she treated jour­nal­ism as her pre-law course.

“I grew up from a very strict up­bring­ing. We were a poor fam­ily and I was raised in a very sim­ple way of life. I had rel­a­tives in the prov­ince whose land was grabbed and couldn’t af­ford a lawyer to take it back.”

In her first year at the univer­sity, though, Alin­do­gan’s in­volve­ment with the school paper and the de­bate group in­di­cated a change in her long-held plans. “I shifted to jour­nal­ism, which I thought I’d be more ef­fec­tive in. I’m still think­ing about shift­ing to hu­man rights law, but be­cause I come from a sim­ple back­ground, it’s eas­ier for me to speak to peo­ple. I un­der­stand what their needs are. I un­der­stand their sit­u­a­tion. I em­pathize,” she says.

Fresh out of univer­sity in 2006 and des­per­ate for work, Alin­do­gan begged for an in­tern­ship at Al Jazeera English, which had just opened then in Manila. She took what was given to her, in­clud­ing a year with­out pay. “I come from a back­ground where I re­ally, ab­so­lutely can­not af­ford to fail, and I knew it. And it wasn’t a fear of fail­ure that was borne out of a de­sire to suc­ceed. I didn’t have the no­tion to save the world; I just wanted to get out of my sit­u­a­tion. School was some­thing I had to fin­ish be­cause here in the Philip­pines, we al­ways base our suc­cess, as it should be, on how well we do in school. That was my ba­sis, and the dis­ci­pline and tenac­ity [from how I was raised] helped me. I knew how to make sac­ri­fices.”

Af­ter her in­tern­ship, Alin­do­gan went on to work as a re­porter for ABS-CBN’s TV Pa­trol and Bandila, then as a week­end morn­ing news an­chor in ANC. Her grave­yard shifts as a crime beat re­porter ex­posed her to the un­der­belly of Manila, a prepa­ra­tion she would later rely on af­ter Al Jazeera hired her again in 2008, first as a pro­ducer, then four years later as a cor­re­spon­dent.

The for­ti­tude that saw Alin­do­gan through her ca­reer ad­vance­ment re­mains res­o­lute in the face of con­stant ad­ver­sity, which is a prin­ci­pal com­po­nent of her job. As the pop­u­lar face of Al Jazeera for Philip­pine re­portage, mostly about con­flicted ar­eas in Min­danao and in parts of South­east Asia, Alin­do­gan is al­ways armed against the un­ex­pected with a bag al­ready packed with her ab­so­lute ne­ces­si­ties. “[In this line of work,] you don’t get to men­tally pre­pare for sit­u­a­tions like dis­as­ter zones; you just rely on a set of skills. You tend to know what to do and what to

ex­pect. But you’re also never pre­pared for what you’ll see or en­counter. Ev­ery sin­gle dis­as­ter is dif­fer­ent, but the sto­ries are al­ways the same: of loss, grief, dis­place­ment, dis­pos­ses­sion,” she says.

Alin­do­gan has been ar­rested and de­tained in Sabah while cov­er­ing a story, has wit­nessed the Bo­hol earth­quake, and has en­dured 21 days in the front lines of the Zam­boanga siege—all just in 2013. “But [cov­er­ing] Typhoon Yolanda was re­ally the most dif­fi­cult. My crew and I went miss­ing for four days, three of those with no food. I had to loot,” she re­calls. De­spite the floods that al­most drowned her and the equip­ment that went miss­ing, her team kept go­ing. “With only the cam­era and the mi­cro­phone work­ing, we kept on. I didn’t feel hun­gry, I didn’t want to come back home. At one point, I was stand­ing in place, think­ing where I’d get my next meal. It turned out I was stand­ing on a body. It was sur­real.”

She took a breather in Jakarta af­ter the or­deal, but the im­pulse to fin­ish what she had started was far more pow­er­ful than her fear. “I couldn’t leave ev­ery­thing just like that, sur­viv­ing some­thing and then com­pletely turn­ing my back on that re­al­ity. Af­ter four days [in Jakarta], I went back to Ta­cloban and stayed for two weeks. It was good for me. It was ther­a­peu­tic for me to process the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Soon af­ter, Alin­do­gan gave birth to her son, an ad­ven­ture on its own that has played into her pub­lic role. It was an in­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence that still af­fects the civic per­cep­tion she brings into her sto­ries. “The dif­fer­ence with hav­ing a child is that the sto­ries I cover have be­come harder to process,” she ad­mits. “Ev­ery sin­gle boy I see in a dis­as­ter zone is my son. I tend to take things more se­ri­ously, and moth­er­hood re­ally taught me that. Grief feels a lot closer to me now that I have a child.”

And she’s an­gry at what she’s see­ing in the Philip­pines. Alin­do­gan con­stantly im­plores her view­ers to speak out be­cause si­lence is con­sent and dis­sent­ing voices are an ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity to­day.

“You can­not re­main emo­tion­less or im­par­tial. I side with the op­pressed, with hu­man­ity. We should speak up when there’s some­thing wrong. Tech­ni­cally, with the re­portage, that im­par­tial­ity comes to play when you have to bal­ance your story, but ob­jec­tiv­ity it­self is a farce. If you see a vi­o­la­tion, call it for what it is. Is that im­par­tial­ity? To a cer­tain de­gree, yes, be­cause your fi­delity and loy­alty is to the truth.” Where most will fold un­der the pres­sure or set­tle for an eas­ier life, she be­comes an even finer jour­nal­ist with a pro­found un­der­stand­ing of the field.

For most women, their pro­fes­sional and per­sonal lives run on con­trast­ing paths. Alin­do­gan, how­ever, has been able to merge both into a solid en­tirety. To­gether with Nikki Luna and Ella Mage, she has es­tab­lished the Tala Foun­da­tion, which pro­vides school sup­plies and toys to chil­dren liv­ing in ar­eas of mil­i­tary con­flict. It’s the kind of work that al­lows her to con­trib­ute fur­ther even af­ter a story has been told. “[Com­bin­ing the pro­fes­sional with the per­sonal] tends to build your un­der­stand­ing of your work. It builds con­fi­dence, it builds in­stinct, but you mas­ter it only af­ter you’ve done it. It’s a skill that has to be de­vel­oped and can­not be fast-tracked.”

In an in­dus­try where pub­lic trust takes years and plenty of hard work to build, Alin­do­gan knows all too well the del­i­cate na­ture of cred­i­bil­ity and how keep­ing it is a life­long duty. “It takes only one day to ruin ev­ery­thing: one wrong re­port­ing, one small scan­dal for a rep­u­ta­tion to be tar­nished. As a jour­nal­ist, I ad­here to the guid­ance that moral out­rage and ethics pro­vide me.”

“I was in In­danan, Sulu to meet MNLF Nur Misuari who was in hid­ing for three years. I had to pass through two Abu Sayyaf ter­ri­to­ries. I love Sulu for its beaches and the diver­sity of its peo­ple.”

Cover photo by Joseph Pas­cual

Top, half-skirt, and slides, all For­ever 21, SM Mega­mall. Skirt, Vinia Romero.

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