She would later leave network news to study at the prestigious New York University taking up television news production. "More than the technical and theoretical lessons I learned in NYU, it was the experience of covering the news in New York City I consider priceless. I became more broadminded as I encountered people from different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds," she said.
While living in the Big Apple, she became our voice in the wake of the devastating 9/11 attack, delivering her reports on ABC-5, and later on, exclusively tapped by ABS-CBN to do reports for the network. "I would say it was the most emotionally draining, difficult and dangerous coverage," she recalls. "It was tough because communication lines were down. Almost all Manhattan-bound vehicles were out of service. And I was on my own."
In 2011, she made a big return to the then-newly relaunched TV5, joining her ABC-5 colleague Jove Francisco on the highly-praised newscast Balitang 60, as well as becoming the news bulletin anchor for Aksyon Breaking.
Last month, she quietly exited the Kapatid Network, leaving a question to many of her viewers as to what will be her next career move.
For this edition of MNP Q&A, we put a spotlight on Chi Bocobo's storied career as a broadcast journalist. Be sure to be part of the discussion on Twitter by tweeting us @medianewserphil or posting your comments on our Facebook page.
Name: Chi Datu Bocobo
Occupation: Broadcast Journalist
Education: De La Salle University: Communication Arts, Financial Management
New York University: TV News Production
Guiding Principle: 1 Corinthian 3:23 “Work willingly at whatever you do as though you are working for the Lord rather than for people.”
Media Idols: I admire Christiane Amanpour for working her way up as entry level assistant on CNN’s international assignment desk in Atlanta to being the network’s chief international correspondent and anchor. I also respect Barbara Walters for being the first female co-anchor of a network evening news program and for her signature interviewing style. Last but definitely not the least, I do find myself dreaming of being in Samantha Brown’s shoes, which have pretty much explored the world! It must be pretty awesome to be a travel journalist. I can so connect with her witty humor, too.
News Sources: I get the freshest news updates from online news sites. There are several including Interaksyon.com. For comprehensive updates on global affairs, CNN tops the list.
Twitter Handle: @chidatubocobo
Please tell us something about Chi Bocobo on and behind the camera.
I have an on camera button that I switch on when presenting the news. I change hats, so to speak. Off cam, I’m just a happy, laid back, free-spirited person. I like to laugh a lot. That won’t work in front of the news cameras. Those who know me by heart get a little disoriented catching me on serious news mode. Thanks to Balitang 60, we were able to have some light moments towards the end of the show. It’s weekend news, after all.
When did you decide that you wanted to be part of the TV news business?
I’ve dreamed of this profession since I was a little girl. I would read aloud and copy the news anchors on TV. Even in school, I’d always wind up in interpretative reading and declamation contests, and writing a lot of stories. Months after college graduation, I found myself in a crossroads, when I had to choose between Ms. Saigon, London or the news. I chose the latter.
What attracted you to this profession?
I had quite a productive and meaningful experience working on my thesis with my college buddy, Rica Arevalo, now a writer and a film director. It was a video documentary on the plight of pregnant women taking shelter in a maternity home. That piece earned the Gawad CCP award for best documentary. The entire journey gave me a sense of purpose. I told myself I wanted to do more documentaries. So, I applied for work at news networks.
Is there any journalist that you looked up to that you believe helped shape your view as a journalist?
The Probe Team! Their pieces were remarkable. I liked that they were factual, unbiased and well-produced. I have a deep respect for Tina Monzon-Palma as well. It would have been a dream come true to work with her, but when I got into ABC-5 she was on her way out.
In your own words, what is journalism for you? How would you define a journalist?
Journalism is all about telling the truth. A journalist gathers factual data and relays them to his/her audience as accurately as he/she could.
What has been your own approach/style in storytelling?
In news reporting, I will always deliver the key information first, and then go into the details as time permits. In conducting a Q&A though, I may do the opposite to get the crucial soundbites eventually. In some cases, I’ve allowed the case study to warm up to me first, even if it meant sacrificing a few minutes of the interview, then I ask the tougher questions.
You were known back in the day as Ces Datu. Why did you decide to change your screen name?
I honestly didn't think much of it. My real name is Ma. Cecilia Datu-Bocobo. When I returned to the broadcast industry, I was already married. So, on my first day back in TV5, I wrote my real name Chi and my married name Bocobo on the sheet of paper they gave me. I totally forgot about my screen name Ces. I guess the graphics person just copied what I wrote. Today, I still get asked a lot if I am the same person as Ces Datu, or if I have a sister named Ces.
Back in the 90s, I was blessed to be the anchor of an early primetime newscast on TV5 called Balitang-Balita. It was a good break considering how young I was at the time. I am also thankful for Balitang 60, the weekend news I co-anchored with TV5 veteran, Jove Francisco, on AksyonTV.
Although people see my coverage of the World Trade Center attacks as a big break, I consider it more of an eye-opener and a humbling experience. Initially, I delivered phone patch reports for the various networks that called for updates on Filipino casualties. ABS-CBN eventually tapped me to work exclusively for the network as their correspondent in New York.
Tell us more about your experience covering that tragic 9/11 attack.
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I broke news of the World Trade Center (WTC) Terrorist Attacks to the Filipino audiences. The minute the first tower was hit, I got a call from Manila to report on the tragedy. It didn't occur to me that I was the only local reporter in New York then, until I got incessant calls from several Philippine news stations, first among was ABC-5 news. I remember how I never got to leave my seat by the phone. The tiny kitchen where I lived became my news bureau.
I would say it was the most emotionally draining, difficult and dangerous coverage. It was tough because communication lines were down. Almost all Manhattan-bound vehicles were out of service. And I was on my own.
As I found my way to Ground Zero with a borrowed digital camera and a backpack, I realized I had no way of sending my footage back home. Providentially, I came across a Filipino owned digital multimedia studio. This was where I edited, digitized and transmitted my reports through the internet in the wee hours of the morning to reach Manila’s 4PM deadline (4AM Eastern time). Live reports were done mostly through phone patch.
There were a lot of challenges. I wanted to tell the stories of Filipinos directly affected by the tragedy, especially those who lost loved ones during the attacks, but I also understood their need for privacy. I had to hire friends and acquaintances to do the tedious task of filming the countless interviews and memorial services with me, gather updates from the consulate and the NYC authorities and shooting my stand-uppers.
When tragedy struck at the WTC, I realized I was given a second lease on life. I could have been there at that time of the attacks had I not overslept. (And I hardly ever oversleep.) My daily morning routine was to get off the bus at the World Trade Center, where I transfer to a subway line into the city for my internship.
What other stories/events had the biggest impact on you and why?
Too many stories have made an impact on my life. The most recent one was the Canonization of Pope John Paul II, now Saint John Paul. It’s amazing how someone I had seen, admired and drawn so much inspiration from became a Saint during my lifetime. And, I was blessed to witness it.
What did you learn from NYU that made you the journalist you are today?
More than the technical and theoretical lessons I learned in NYU, it was the experience of covering the news in New York City I consider priceless. I became more broadminded as I encountered people from different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. It was quite a feat to gather stories in the city. I became stronger and more self-reliant. I ‘manned up,' so to speak. I learned that when you set your heart into something of purpose, it is impossible not to accomplish it. Along the way, there were ‘bullies’ who tried to keep me from achieving what I was meant to do. Yet, when school was over, I was thankful that I persevered. I was offered by 2 of my professors to be an intern in their networks. To this day, I choose my battles. I still encounter people who find joy in hurting others for selfish gain (a common theme in today’s headlines, actually), but I choose to be the bigger person. It’s just not worth my time.
What’s the best and worst part of working in the news business?
The best part is being able to do what I do best. The worst part is not being able to do it because someone simply said so.
How would you compare the news business of today to back when you were starting?
Wow. I came from the era of heavy betacam tapes. We had no LIVE capabilities. We had our ‘taped as live’ reports express-delivered by our amazing couriers. People worked really hard without all the new technology we have today. It felt like we were on skeletal work mode all the time. There was joy at work, nonetheless. We were productive. We learned a lot. We time-coded our scripts. We had detailed advisories in Filipino and English throughout the day. We edited our own videos. As my colleagues from the ABC-5 days would say... "angat ang sipag at pagkapulido ng trabaho nung mga panahong iyon."
What do you miss the most about the old ABC-5?
I miss my cameramen, the crew and those days I was out covering all sorts of stories. I miss the professionalism and competence of those who mentored us. I miss the days when credibility, hard work and perseverance trumped appearance or sex appeal.
Tell us about your involvement on Family Rosary Crusade.
About a decade ago, I prayed for concrete ways to serve using my talents. Before I knew it, I was being asked to be Family Rosary Crusade’s (FRC) correspondent for the World Youth Day in Toronto Canada year 2002, the last International WYD in which Saint John Paul was present. I've been taping segments for FRC since then. I presently host a segment called "Kwentong Buhay," which tackles stories of faith and conversion and "LEAF, Leisure and Entertainment Alternatives for the Family."
When you're not preoccupied with your work, what do you usually do? Any hobbies you'd like to share to our readers?
Soon, I’ll be having a much lighter schedule, so I’m pretty excited to have more time for family! I’ll be more active in Muay Thai, boxing and circuit training. I have a lot of interests. I do voice talent work and host events when I have time; I write songs; I read; I love arts and crafts; I enjoy calligraphy.
Speaking of songs, many people may not know this but you were the voice behind the jingles of Good Morning Club and Balitang 60. Is this something you've always dreamed of doing on the side or do you see yourself doing this full-time?
Honestly, I am married to my music. Music has always been a part of my life even during my ABC-5 days. I've been singing as long as I've been copying news anchors on TV as a little girl. I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing songs as well. As a job, it is a sideline. Yet, it is also a way of life, which makes it full-time.
Your entry on the recently-concluded PhilPop 2014 took home the People's Choice award. In an interview you said that your son, Sancho, was your inspiration while writing the song. Could you tell us something about that?
I can’t begin to explain the joy of being able to write a song that expresses my love for my son Sancho. What a bonus that it landed on PhilPop’s top 12 and bagged the People’s Choice award. It became a way for me to share about Sancho’s condition — Spinal Muscular Atrophy. It is my tribute to all the kids and parents who share our plight. I am moved by messages of love and support even from overseas. It is such a humbling experience and I praise God for it. Today, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve through PhilPop. We have been going with the Maestro, Ryan Cayabyab in his songwriting workshops. He is such a humble, brilliant man, and what a blessing it is to learn from him. We are also able to share our own experiences in songwriting. Thus far we have done workshops in Davao, Manila, Cebu and Laoag.
Has motherhood had a significant impact on your career thus far?
Absolutely. When I was single I had no qualms about taking on assignments in distant locations. I could afford to stay as long as I was needed there. Now, my family is my priority. My 4-year-old son Sancho was born with a genetic disease, which causes general muscle impairment. I have to make time for him even if it means doing fewer assignments in the network. I want to be there to see his progress as he goes through therapy, and the daily miracles he is blessed with.
What things in your life right now are you most proud of?
I remembered what my father said on my first day at work in the news.“Never take bribe money from anyone. At the end of the day, your honesty and integrity are your only possessions.” I am proud to have taken that to heart. But then again Proverbs 27:2 says, Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.
You had a good run co-anchoring Balitang 60 for three years. The critics and even viewers really responded to it because of its substantive reporting. Why do you think it worked? Also, could you also tell us something about your free-flowing chemistry with Jove?
I loved Balitang 60. It was our baby. Jove and I were really involved — from discussing our news line ups, inviting guests, planning our Q&As, getting our own chairs for our set, and composing our own program theme song. I guess, because we are friends off cam, it is easier to exchange lines, especially when not scripted. We know each other’s facial reactions, hand signals, body language by heart. When the teleprompter conks out, I’m not bothered when Jove is around. We can banter all day. Jove’s such a passionate journo. I learned a lot from him these past years.
Where are you most comfortable at, anchoring in the studio or doing field reporting?
With my current situation, anchoring in the studio is a better set up, mainly because the fixed schedule gives me the chance to fulfill my many responsibilities at home. What I miss most about the field is seeing things as they unfold firsthand, meeting new people and hearing their stories.
What's the funniest thing that you have done so far, on the air?
The funniest would be avoiding a fly without attempting to swat it.
Has there been any coverage that made you lose your composure?
More than losing my composure, it’s feeling a deep kind of empathy for my subject. When I was interviewing the parents of a Filipina who died with so many others in the WTC tragedy, I could not help my tears. The thought of not even being able to bury your loved one is just heartbreaking.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see talk, travel, music, mission work and advocacies.
What's the best advice you can give to aspiring journalists out there?
Know your purpose as a journalist, and do not settle for anything that hinders you from accomplishing it. Make a difference wherever you’re planted and let God use your gifts mightily. Try not to spend a lifetime wondering if this is where you’re meant to be because life is fleeting. When you love what you’re doing, you’ll be great at it. You’ll know it’s your path.