There is perhaps no news anchor more popular on social media at the moment than Karmina Constantino. The broadcast journalist behind the long-running news show “Dateline Philippines” on ANC caught the attention of netizens last week when she pointedly refuted the suggestion of presidential candidate Dr. Jose Montemayor Jr. that ANC might have accepted money from the Isko Moreno camp.
This was after Constantino asked Montemayor to clarify details of his allegations regarding the Manila mayor receiving donations from the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. “I’m sorry, I’m not gonna let that pass, Dr. Montemayor. We are not in the business of getting paid,” said the news program anchor in the now viral interview. “I am personally insulted by that insinuation. We can go on with this interview, we can leave this topic aside and move on. But let me tell you, this is not an insinuation that I will take lightly.”
Constantino’s name trended on Twitter right after and the news anchor earned praise and admiration from netizens and viewers for quickly standing up to Montemayor. “Salute to Karmina, brave woman,” said a comment on YouTube. “You go girl,” said another. “Can we have Karmina cloned?” asked a tweet. “Karmina Constantino pulls yet another ESPN Play of the Day,” another Twitter comment went. “Magnificent.”
The lady appreciates the accolades. “I was floored, to be honest,” she says. She also found the reaction “empowering,” in light of the challenges her home network had to go thru the past two years. But while Constantino values the commendations, she knows there was really nothing out of the ordinary about what she did.
“I didn’t think any differently of it. I just knew at that time that I had to do what was needed to be done, which is to correct him right away,” the news anchor tells ANCX over Zoom. “Because I feel like this is precisely why we’re here in this situation: walang nagsalita, hinahayaan yung mga pagkakamali. And I’ve always been that kind of person kasi eh. Whenever an opportunity presents itself to make things right, you take it.”
She finds it curious that people describe her move as brave and ballsy. “Hindi siya matapang eh. Hindi siya katapangan,” she says. “It’s about what is right. At walang lugar dapat doon whether you’re courageous or not.”
Constantino grew up with a grandfather who was a historian, and a father who was an activist. The former is, of course, Renato Constantino who wrote several books on Philippine history, was a diplomat, a nationalist, and a one-time opinion writer who famously dedicated his column on February 19, 1972 to describe the mind of then Presidential brother-in-law Kokoy Romualdez as nothing but empty white space.
His son RC Constantino, meanwhile, Karmina’s dad, was at the forefront of the fight against the US Bases renewal in the country, and in 2006 memorably disrupted a press conference on Charter change, calling a bunch of congressmen “serial rapists,” “without shame,” and a “disgrace to the nation.”
“They taught us really how to love your country eh,” says Constantino of her parents. “It was ingrained in us. There’s no other option. Whether it’s art that you do or this or any other work. Hindi imposed. I don’t know how they did it, siguro through their actions, yung modeling nangyari when we were growing up.” The state of the country was a regular topic at the Constantino home, and young Karmina would even tag along with her dad during rallies. “I was raised by parents who taught us how to respect authority but they also taught us to question authority when needed.”
Sal and Hoff
Constantino didn’t originally want a career in broadcast media, which was what her mother had wanted her to pursue. She took up film in U.P. but eventually ended up in the newsroom when she applied for a post in the now dissolved Sky News then headed by David Celdran. She was immediately offered a reporter position but Constantino begged off—having studied film, she knew nothing about news television—and asked that she be given the lowest post instead so she can learn the ropes from the bottom up.
Within a year, she was writing and producing special reports, and eventually made anchor. When Sky News merged with the Sarimanok News Network sometime in the late 90s, Constantino kept her job until after the merger became what is now ANC.
She considers then Sky News reporters Ed Lingao, Luz Rimban, Kara Magsanoc Alikpala and Dondi Ocampo her early mentors. From them, the news anchor says she learned about the value of having a good work ethic and unquestionable principles. “Once you have those in place, it always has to be the best effort that you put into your work,” she adds. “Up to now that’s what I do because that’s what they showed me.”
Ever since taking on the anchor position at “Dateline Philippines,” Constantino has spoken with hundreds of personalities—and they’re not always controversial politicians. Asked to name some of her memorable interviews, she mentions the two times she got to talk to the American actor David Hasselhoff. As a child of the ‘80s and as a “Knight Rider” fan, she says, those two encounters meant a lot.
Another interview that comes to mind is the one with Sal Panelo July last year. She was asking the former presidential spokesperson why the Palace hasn’t issued an apology to Hidilyn Diaz after the Olympian was erroneously included in an oust-Duterte matrix. “You may have unwittingly injured a person and put the person in this matrix. Sabihin na natin you were just tasked by the President to present this matrix but the matrix included questionable details, untruths, falsities,” said Constantino. “So why not even apologize for that?”
“You’re putting assumptions na hindi tama,” Panelo replied.
Constantino’s answer: “Hindi ba ganon din ang matrix mo?”
One interview she will always remember was the one with a policeman assigned to human rights worker Reina Mae Nasino—whose baby died two months after it was taken away from her care in prison. “I had just given birth then, and I know the feeling of a mother yearning to be with the child, even if the child is only in the other room,” recalls the news anchor who is a mother of three boys and a girl. Interviewing the police officer proved frustrating, she says. No matter how hard she probed, she couldn’t get through to the guy.
Of course now the interview with Montemayor will be part of her list of memorable interviews, if only for the impact it created.
“This is the thing that I love the most about interviewing,” says Constantino. “An interview once it’s there, it’s not just live it’s also alive, and you have to really respect the life of this interview. Of course you have a set of questions but (the conversation) can go another way so you always have to be alert. So natutuwa ako every time may interview because I don’t know what’s gonna happen next. It’s always an adventure for me.”
Truth be told, it was hard for the journalist to skim through the many interviews she’s done and find the gems. She doesn’t really keep track of them, she says. “After my program is done, after postmortem or whatever, tapos na yun.” Because apart from her work as news anchor, she also wears other hats. “I’m a wife, I’m a very loving wife. I’m a mom to four kids. I manage our household. I am a daughter, I am a sister, and I take these roles seriously.”
Being there for those closest to her has acquired a new importance after Constantino survived a brain aneurysm in 2015. “That was a wake-up call to me, that our lives shouldn’t be lived for ourselves alone, that we should be living our lives for others. I’ve been family-centric ever since [I was young]—ganyan ako pinalaki. But after the brain surgery, after the aneurysm, it gave me a deeper understanding of life and how you should live it. So whether it’s family or friends, conversations like this one, [we] should really be in the moment.”
Constantino was in a coma for three days. And it took awhile after she realized what exactly she had gone through. “When I first woke up, I didn’t realize the gravity of it. The realization doesn’t come right away, like in one fell swoop. It doesn’t happen that way,” she says. “It’s little things. Kasi hindi mo naman mare-realize kaagad yan when you’re going through therapy, when you’re learning how to walk again, when you’re frustrated because you can’t do the things you were able to do before. When you have to have a nurse to pee. Hindi mo mare-realize yan na ‘I survived!’ But when you attend your children’s programs, which you could have missed, the moving up ceremonies of my kids that came after, that’s when you realize ‘I’m not supposed to be here but I am, and that’s a miracle.’”
She would cry uncontrollably during those moving up ceremonies, she admits, even in Boy Scout investitures. “Ako lang siguro yung natatanging parent during the moving up na hagulgol nang hagulgol.” Sometimes she even catches herself crying on dates with her husband. “It makes you all the more aware of everything,” she says of the ordeal she went through, “not just the notable things that happened to you but the many other miracles that happen everyday. Doesn’t have to be mind-blowing. It’s as simple as waking up in the morning.”
Other prominent people who have survived aneurysm are “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke, American actress Sharon Stone, and musician Quincy Jones who had his aneurysm in 1974. They all have publicly spoken about their experiences, including CNBC correspondent Sharon Epperson who suffered an aneurysm in 2016 at age 48, and in 2019 was already spreading the word to US lawmakers about the affliction and what can be done to prevent it.
Constantino says surviving aneurysm made her grateful for the gift of life. “Kaya dapat hindi sinasayang. Pero matagal ko na naman hindi sinasayang yung buhay ko. Matagal na ‘ko mabait. Maldita lang ako,” she says, laughing.
The past two years seemed to have lit a fire in the news anchor. “Without the franchise and with the pandemic, I’ve never been more passionate with my work,” she says. “Because these are the times [that give reason to] why we exist—so the more we should be probing, the more we should be asking questions, whether it’s about the country’s health or the country’s political future. This is why we should be out there more than ever.”
Before the viral interview with Montemayor can even turn a week old, Constantino’s name is back on TikTok, on Twitter feeds, on Facebook status updates, this time with a highly tense—at least that’s how we felt watching it—back and forth with Cavite Rep. Crispin “Boying” Remulla. The congressman has alleged there were paid attendees during the March 4 rally for Presidential aspirant Leni Robredo in General Trias, Cavite, and that there were “hakot” crowd members transported from outside Cavite.
On YouTube, praise for how the news anchor handled the interview is generous. They love her follow up questions and how she asks them. “Power,” someone said. “Queen on fire,” said another. “You were good, Ms. Constantino,” someone wrote. “You have always been..but this time you’re even better.”
In the interview, as per her usual, Constantino probed yet kept her cool. But you can almost tell when she’s getting fired up. When she’s not buying what the other guy is selling. Is it when she drops her head very slightly to the left? Or the right? Or when her eyes get smaller and she leans closer to the camera. Sometimes it’s her eyebrows, which you realize is not really doing anything—they’re just naturally, well, “maldita.”
She asked Remulla to name the politician who he said was paying rally attendees but the congressman declined. She asked if he has proof with regards his allegations, but Remulla said it’s not necessary. He was a former governor of Cavite, he said, and knows the territory very well. “Alam ko ang galawan ng tao sa amin. Kaya taken at face value, I do not have reason to lie. Nakita ko yung mobilization ng tao. Alam mo ang kilos ng hakot, alam mo ang kilos ng bayaran.”
“Congressman, you’re a veteran, you’re a political veteran. You’ve been through so many elections in the past,” Constantino then said with a straight face. “Gawain niyo rin ho ba ito, ang manghakot at magbayad?”
What does Constantino consider the biggest challenge facing media today? “The challenge now really is that the truth is being threatened,” she says. “People have their own versions of truths. On one hand, puwede mo sabihin that’s okay. All of us naman have our own biases, depends on how you were raised, your environment. But then there’s biases and there’s truths and there’s facts.”
What makes the situation more challenging is the great amount of people peddling fake news and revisions in our history. “We’re outnumbered,” says Constantino. “But that’s just a challenge, a snapshot of where we are now. But I believe that it shouldn’t and will not be our story forever. Because even if the truth is being threatened or challenged, there are many who are also seeking the truth. So in a way, we may be outnumbered but our ranks are multiplying.”
Photographs by Joseph Pascual