Janmark’s and other stories that matter
It was a Wednesday morning in January when I started chasing a story about teenagers detained at the House of Hope, or Bahay Pag-asa, the government’s in-house facilities for children in conflict with the law. It was in January this year, on my second official day on the job.
Before that assignment, I had spent three years covering the asset management industry in Southeast Asia as a financial reporter for an international publication.
But living in a country marked by drug-related deaths, the declining value of the peso, and worsening traffic in the Metro had stirred in me a desire to report on stories that I thought mattered. Or, at the very least, stories that I could relate to. (One could argue that financial reporting is relevant in its own way—and I won’t disagree. Except that my particular reportage focused on managing the assets of the ultra-rich, and I certainly couldn’t relate.)
This nagging feeling of wanting to write stories that I wanted to read brought me to the Inquirer, and on that fateful Wednesday morning, to the City of Mandaluyong.
I had heard from a source that the Mandaluyong City Bahay Pag-asa was one of the better run places, and I was hoping to see for myself what it was like. A week before, I was assigned to cover several departments, among them the Department of Social Welfare and Development. At about that time, Congress was trying to pass bills that would lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15, to either 12 or 9.
When I set out to visit Mandaluyong City’s Bahay Pag-asa, I thought I would be writing a straightforward news report. Later, I realized that I might be able to do a feature story.
With the blessing of my kind editor who let me work on just that one story that day, I was able to speak with a 14-year-old boy, along with the social worker attending to him—in fact the only social worker in the entire place which, at that time, housed 14 boys age 14 to 19.
My subject was very shy at first. He had been at the halfway house for three weeks at that point, after he was caught using drugs.
Janmark (not his real name) said he feared for his safety in the two-room concrete house that barely had any furniture. I would later learn that one of the boys in residence was facing a murder charge.
I would be lying if I said I felt completely safe while doing the interview. Because while all the doors and windows of the facility were padlocked at all times, it also felt like I was locked in with them.
But there was much that I learned and relearned in writing that story: that public policy affects so many; that children in conflict with the law are among the most vulnerable sectors in the country; that there are stories to be found everywhere, if one looked hard enough.
I’m not sure if that story was my best but it was, for me, one of my most important. It validated my decision to return to the kind of reporting that I am doing now, the kind that sheds light on stories like Janmark’s.
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