ABS-CBN News Chief Ging Reyes, 'Mother of Dragons', to retire after 36-year career

Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 29 2022 11:41 PM

Ma. Regina 'Ging' Reyes, ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current Affairs Head, in this photo taken on October 21, 2021. Michael Bagtas, ABS-CBN News/file
Ma. Regina 'Ging' Reyes, ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current Affairs Head, in this photo taken on October 21, 2021. Michael Bagtas, ABS-CBN News/file

It’s the end of an era.

ABS-CBN’s longest-serving news chief, Ging Reyes, will retire in December after 12 years at the helm of one of the largest and historic newsrooms in the Philippines and after 36 years with the company.

Reyes will leave behind a legacy of transition and innovation, as she oversaw the newsroom’s pivot from broadcast into digital and multi-platform operations. She also developed, nurtured and mentored many of the country’s iconic, leading and “fiery” journalists — earning her the moniker “Mother of Dragons” among peers. 

Reyes began her news career in ABS-CBN as a production assistant (PA) for a newly launched Filipino newscast TV Patrol in 1986, as the country was regaining its democracy after years under Martial Law, and as the organization relaunched its operations after it was ordered shuttered by the government in 1972. 

In an interview in 2020, Reyes said that she had limited exposure to broadcast news before taking on the job. 

“We were a poor family. We just had the basics. We didn't even own a TV set. My knowledge of television at that time was limited to the few times that I would go to our neighbor's window and watch from there,” she said.

Yet the challenge to be part of the reopening of ABS-CBN as well as the “awakening free press” post-Martial Law compelled her to join.

“Ang pangarap ko lang noon ay maging reporter, sa totoo lang. My greatest frustration at that time was I couldn't become a reporter for several reasons. I have children. I couldn't leave them and I knew that the life of a reporter was so demanding. I didn't have enough confidence. I had self-esteem issues when I was younger. I knew from what I was seeing that reporters had to be confident, had to speak well, had to look good and attractive. And I wasn't all of that. I never had illusions that I could be in front of a camera,” Reyes said.

“But I found my voice in ABS-CBN and in the newsroom. I knew I was intelligent. I knew I was hardworking. I knew I was up for anything. I knew that I would not be a PA forever.”

Reyes’ stint as production assistant was indeed short-lived. She would eventually learn the ropes and climb the ranks, becoming one of the best and most reliable producers in the newsroom. 

Reyes was eventually named as the executive producer for the country’s longest running newscast, The World Tonight. It was then anchored by Angelo Castro Jr., former ABS-CBN news chief, and who Reyes considers as her mentor.

In 2002, she was tasked to launch ABS-CBN News’ North America bureau from the ground up, recruiting journalists and providing a platform for stories for and about the Filipino diaspora in the continent. 

As bureau chief, she covered Filipino World War 2 Veterans’ equity issues, the plight and success of migrant workers, policies affecting Filipino-American communities and Philippines-US relations under US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

In recognition of her work in the bureau, Reyes was named by the Filipina Women’s Network as one of the 100 Most Influential Filipino Women in the US in 2007.

In 2010, Reyes was appointed as ABS-CBN’s news chief, an assignment which, as Reyes recalled, was received reluctantly.

“At first, I didn't want it. I turned it down initially,” she recalled.

“Sabi ko, ‘Ayaw ko. That's not for me. I'm happy here. I just bought a new car.’ That life is so stressful. I've worked with so many different news chiefs. I’ve seen them all carry the weight of the newsroom on their shoulders.''

But a call from then-ABS-CBN President Charo Santos-Concio changed her mind, and the pressure of carrying the weight of the newsroom fell on her shoulders.

“She appealed to my sense of family. My sense of mission. My love for the newsroom that is responsible for who I was at that time. I sensed the sincerity of Charo and she said, ‘This is a news team that needs leadership that's sincere and humble and they need someone who's one of them.’”

After assuming the post as ABS-CBN’s 11th news chief in the post-Martial Law era, Reyes brought back veteran news anchors and journalists into the fold to help strengthen the ABS-CBN’s legacy news programming. She also began recruiting and developing journalists to further expand ABS-CBN’s digital content — transitioning journalists into multi-platform reporting and integrated news operations.

Under her watch, ABS-CBN’s newsroom received global accolades for its reporting and documentaries — winning various New York Festival world medals, scoring International Emmy nominations, and earning Gold and Silver Dolphin Awards in Cannes.

In 2020, Reyes was at the top post when ABS-CBN was once again ordered by the government to shut down its free-to-air broadcast operations after the company’s license expired. During congressional hearings to renew the license, Reyes defended the importance of press freedom and the role of journalists in a free society. 

“Every reporter, writer, producer, anchor, every editor, in the newsroom knows that what we do is not just a job. It is a response to a call to tell the truth and work for a cause greater than ourselves,” Reyes told lawmakers during the hearings.

Lawmakers ultimately revoked the application to renew the license.

After ABS-CBN was removed from free-to-air television, activists and media observers described the order as one of the “worst attacks on press freedom” under the Duterte administration. 

The order resulted in ABS-CBN downsizing its operations but continued to report news on digital and cable platforms. 

“For some reason, a news leader, a news chief during his or her time would always have to deal with some major crisis. Sometimes, several. I don't know if I did something bad that I had to be the one at the helm when the worst crisis happened. When the government put all its weight into getting us to shut down our broadcast services. I don't know. This was existential. This caused jobs and livelihood. Life-changing decisions and situations for thousands of families. Ang hirap,” Reyes said.

Despite diminished resources, ABS-CBN News continues its day-to-day operations and remains one of the top news organizations in the country. 

In September, Reyes was named 2022 Southeast Asia Laureate for Women in News Editorial Leadership by the 74-year-old World Association of News Publishers for her “exceptional contribution to the newsroom, editorial integrity, and outstanding leadership”. She dedicated the award to the newsroom.

“Hindi ako tatanggap ng ganitong parangal kung hindi rin dahil sa sipag ninyo at ng buong team natin. Sa mga sakripisyo ng buong newsroom, mga reporter, mga cameraman, ang ating mga writers, production staff, hanggang sa kaliit liitang driver, desk, PAs. Lahat nang ‘yan ay may kontribusyon kung paano magiging matagumpay ang sinumang namumuno sa isang newsroom.”

Past and present members of the ABS-CBN News team have a photo with ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs head Ging Reyes. Jun Sepe, ABS-CBN News
Past and present members of the ABS-CBN News team have a photo with ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs head Ging Reyes. Jun Sepe, ABS-CBN News

During Reyes’ 60th birthday party, a month before her retirement, ABS-CBN journalists from across her 36-year career gathered to honor the “homegrown Kapamilya”, the girl who had no television set growing up.

In her speech, Reyes also spoke about the challenges during the tail-end of her tenure as news chief with the shutdown and the pandemic, and where the future lies for the organization.

“We navigated uncharted waters beginning in 2020. And for almost 3 years we struggled with uncertainty, the deaths of colleagues and loved ones, financial and other unspeakable losses. But we also showed unyielding loyalty, grit and courage and a resilience like no other. It’s a miracle that we are still operating,” Reyes said.

“And it’s this grit and courage that would take you through the future. I may not be there to make decisions, to give input or shepherd this team through the tough times. But it’s gratifying to know that you may have learned a thing or two from me about leading the way, learning from past mistakes and standing up for what is right.”

“Sa kabila ng lahat ng stress, sleep deprivation, sakit ng ulo, tension, at iba pang problema at hirap. It was a wild and wonderful ride. And I wouldn’t trade my 36 years in ABS-CBN for anything else.”

With her final message recalling the early days when she helped reopen ABS-CBN back in 1986, the “dragons” looked to their “mother” with a promise to keep the fire burning.

“Never forget you are ABS-CBN News. You’ve been to hell and back. You can face anything." 

This is the bond that we all share. Defined by hard work, never-say-die-attitude, and an unyielding unrelenting drive to serve.”

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