In 1989, a bold Filipina reporter and her crew traveled to Spratly Islands with a group of government and military officials. While aboveground, the small plane went off course, almost depleting their fuel supply. By a stroke of luck, they were able to spot a small island with a landing strip only moments before the plane’s engine stopped running.
In 2002, a year after the Taliban had fled the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, that same reporter was documenting the changes in the community since the Taliban lost power. She thought she and her crew were safe, until an explosion almost killed them. While interviewing a group of mine clearers, an ambulance triggered a landmine just a few feet away from her.
These events are only a few of the countless deadly situations that GMA Network reporter Maria Jessica A. Soho has experienced in the pursuit of truth.
It is because of this exemplary courage and dedication to the field of journalism that the UP College of Mass Communication (CMC) awarded Soho with the UP Gawad Plaridel last Wednesday, August 29, at the Cine Adarna Film Center.
UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan was among those who presented the award to Soho, calling her a storyteller “with a heart.”
“[Today,] we will be honoring someone who is keeping an older and nobler tradition in mass media, which is to speak to both hearts and minds –– and to speak with compassion,” Chancellor Tan said.
The UP Gawad Plaridel is the highest honor given by the UP System to an outstanding media practitioner.
“Like Plaridel, the recipient of the award must believe in a vision of a Philippine society that is egalitarian, participative and progressive, and in media that is socially responsible, critical and vigilant, liberative and transformative, and free and independent,” the UP CMC explained in a statement.
“Ms. Soho, a veteran broadcast journalist, is cited for her pioneering work in broadcast investigative journalism and for her insightful and courageous coverage of Philippine and world news,” the statement added.
Soho, 54, is the first UP CMC alumna to receive the prestigious award. As the 14th recipient of the UP Gawad Plaridel, Jessica Soho takes the Cine Adarna stage a year after her mentor, Tina Monzon-Palma, had won.
Great stories, humble beginnings
Jessica Soho had no plans of pursuing a media career. In truth, she wanted to become a lawyer, that is, without having to take the necessary Math units; as a result, she chose to take up Journalism in UP Diliman instead. Here, she met veteran journalist Louie Beltran, a professor in the college at the time –– he was also the person who would then inspire her to complete her degree.
In 1985, after graduating, she then went on to work for GMA Network, beginning with a story featuring the Light Rail Transit from Baclaran to Monumento. She was later transferred to the military and defense beat.
More than 30 years have passed and Soho now holds the prestige of being the most awarded broadcast journalist in the Philippines, with over 250 local and 30 international awards acquired throughout her career.
She is also the very first Filipino to be bestowed the distinguished George Foster Peabody award for her documentaries, Kidneys for Sale, on the thriving kidney trade in the vicinity of Manila Bay, and Kamao, which is about the abject poverty that Filipino boxers face.
Soho’s bold and fearless approach to journalism helped form her path. In the audio-visual presentation by GMA news anchor Kara David shown at the ceremony, she was seen interviewing some of the most powerful personalities in the world, including Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, among others.
Soho was acknowledged for her no-nonsense reporting, valuing positive source-reporter relationships without forgoing the tough questions.
“Laging may respect pa rin, kahit alam niya na kunwari [‘yung mga sagot sa mga tanong]. The way she frames her questions [is] always with respect and kindness,” shared colleague Deo Bugaoisan.
“The epitome of a working journalist”
Known to be one of the most trustworthy TV reporters in the Philippines, Jessica Soho hosts the GMA news magazine program, Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho, and the newscast, State of the Nation with Jessica Soho, on GMA News TV. Soho, “JS” to her newsroom colleagues, has won Reader’s Digest Asia’s “Most Trusted News Presenter” award six times.
In an email interview with David, she calls Soho the “epitome of a working journalist,” emphasizing her perseverance in research and writing.
“JS is a very humble, hardworking journalist na wala masyadong concern or hangad na iangat ang sarili. She works quietly and diligently and lets her work speak for herself,” she added.
In her Gawad Plaridel lecture, Soho champions the power of the story, even going so far as to say that it is the very reason for the existence of journalists.
“The story… I cannot overemphasize that enough. Because that is what we’re really here for; the reason for our being, if you will, and what we should all continue working hard for,” she said.
In a society where false information can be disseminated with the touch of a screen, now more than ever, Soho asserts that the country needs journalists who uphold truth and protect the integrity of the story.
“As we say in UP, ‘Kung hindi tayo, sino? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan?’ I say, that should be the story of every Iskolar ng Bayan.”
Photography by Dianne Bael