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Woman of the world

April 13, 2009 4:37pm
The deaths of colleagues returned reflection to my Holy Week of reveries.

In our hyperconnected age, the news of death comes from assorted sources. I learned about Elvis Sadia's passing through the Manila Chronicle alumni facebook page, Noel Cabrera's through a text message, Jane Subang's through another ex-Chronicler's invite to go to her wake, Joe Capadocia's through gmanews.tv, and Nelly Sindayen's through Pete Lacaba's Plaridel yahoo groups.

I had run into them at different points in my career. I was in my late 20s when I would bump into Elvis and Jane in the sunset of the Chronicle's heyday.



Nelly Sindayen of TIME magazine

Nelly Sindayen, the Time magazine correspondent, I saw most often because she seemed to be everywhere there was anything important happening. As Time's resident Philippine hand, Nelly shaped a global readership's view of the country during history's crucial moments: Ninoy's assassination, EDSA 1,2, and 3; the coups.

She was always smiling and wearing a malong. I knew she was Muslim at a time when I hardly knew any. She seemed to revel in her Tawi-Tawi roots (born in Siasi). Yet she was every bit a woman of the world, able to call some of Time's most grizzled journalists by their last names and earning a reputation as a human videoke machine that had lyrics of a thousand songs programmed into her brain. Every major city in the world has a Nelly -- a media personality compelling enough to convene both news makers and journalists in her apartment for dinner gatherings... and sing-along sessions, in between whispered scoops and leaked information.

Knowing of her proud Mindanao origins, I sent her a copy, nearly 20 years ago, of one of the first documentaries I produced, a piece about children caught in the crossfire of war in Mindanao ("Hadlok", meaning fear in Bisaya). Soon I was surprised to find Hadlok reviewed in Time, with my name in a magazine I had been reading since I was a teenager dreaming of telling stories for a living. I'll never forget her for that, because it helped push me on this path of exploring our country in search of more stories, following Nelly in her mission to add bits and pieces to this vast mosaic we call a nation.