Mary Kathleen Rea Sonda Quiaño was born and educated in Baguio City. She takes pride in being an Ibaloi coming from a clan in Benguet. Watching and listening to her deliver reports gives me pride as others too, who personally know her, feel the same whenever Kathy comes out on television, not on national TV, but for an international broadcast on the Cable News Network or CNN.
Kathy is the eldest daughter of Dr. Isabelita Sito-Reasonda and Atty. Ederlindo Quiaño. Isabelita or Lita, said her mother, Feliza, was a full-blooded Ibaloi, daughter of Vicenta Cando and Segundo Sito of Sablan, Benguet, while her father, Luis Reasonda, hails from Laoac, Pangasinan. Lita is also the only Cordilleran doctor who served the Benguet General Hospital during its initial years, which service went on for the next 34 years up to her retirement in November 2006.
Kathy, while a mixture of Ibaloi and Pangasinense, with her father Ed also coming from Laoac, Pangasinan, claims she is more of an Ibaloi. Her usual attire comes with pointed boots and a printed polo, ready for horseback riding, which she learned to do at age three. She eats “pinikpikan” and joins the “cañao” as well as dances the tayaw with grace.
The Ibaloi’s trade mark of being shy has always been in Kathy’s blood. Her father said that when Kathy was left in one place, her mom would always get her back exactly from the same area. She is a shy girl with a few words to tell, but has intelligent words that can awe a listener.
Ed said that the young Kathy had always been a media person with her first exposure being that of a contender for the Little Miss Broadcaster, a contest in one of the local radio stations. “Kathy was a grade three pupil at Saint Louis Laboratory Elementary School when she first had her media exposure. She spoke for a few minutes on radio and it was quite an experience for us especially, hearing our daughter over the radio.”
Lita remembers that as a child, Kathy wanted to go into theatre arts; she wanted to produce and write scripts. She added that Kathy was introvert and prefers to work behind the scenes but she was always part of dances in programs held at the mining community where her father works and where she grew up.
A game with her siblings Jenny, Albert, and Jopet has always made her the think tank in coming up with a show for the family. As a pupil and a student, school plays and skits came to life with Kathy making the story and making things happen as a director and producer of the show.
Her being a shy girl did not prevent her from expressing herself and doing well in media work and while she initially refused to act and perform in front of people or the camera, she has been a director and scriptwriter, making the performance happen.
As a Mass Communication student at the University of the Philippines Diliman, Kathy was invited to become a segment producer for the acclaimed investigative newsmagazine Probe Productions. This she did for six years even after her college graduation in 1986.
In 1994, she taught at the Saint Louis University Human Sciences Department and handled the subject on Developmental Communication. Lucky for Alah Sungduan of Mountainview Satellite Corporation and this writer including about 30 other SLU mass communication students, we were recipients of the knowledge of Ma’am Kathy. We were the only students whom she handled because after one semester of teaching, she was taken in by CNN based in Manila as a freelance producer and editor. She later joined the CNN Indonesia Bureau as a producer, editor, and correspondent, which position she holds until now.
Having acquired a permanent employee status at CNN, Kathy, together with her crew, has produced features about the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, East Timor, India, and Japan. Included in the unforgettable productions she produced are live news and special events coverage on the downfall of Indonesian President Suharto in 1998, the EDSA 2 and 3 People Power revolutions in the Philippines in 2000 and 2001, and the East Timor Independence Day celebration in 2002.
Being with CNN, she said that it is a must to know all facets of the production, including live reporting, which she has come to master despite her introvert personality.
Kathy believes that having come from an Ibaloi family with the tag “shy mango” is not a hindrance in any dream. “My mother is an Ibaloi but I don’t think she exhibits any form of shyness. Even my lola does not. I’d like to believe that we come from a family with the members, especially the women, having strong personalities. We are fighters of the rights of the underdogs.”
The Ibaloi blood, she said, has nothing to do with one’s achievement or failure in life, it is in the person, in one’s outlook in life, having a strong belief that she can be somebody as long as she works hard for it.
In her case, luck set in at the proper time. As a student at UP, Cheche Lazaro and Maria Ressa were her instructors. “I was asked to join them in Probe Team and I considered it as an experience, so I did,” Kathy said.
While with the show, she said that multi-tasking was common. “You have to have a working knowledge of everything in the pro-duction and exert effort to enhance whatever little knowledge you have.”
She said that with Probe, she has learned so much aside from the work and personal experience. “It was fun because I was able to visit places locally and internationally. It was enriching because while I felt harassed doing a number of tasks, I realized the personal benefits I was obtaining from it.”
With her performance in the show, it was again Ressa who paved the way for her to join CNN. “Sufficient training and knowledge, proper connection, and the right attitude towards work made me land where I am now,” Kathy said while sipping brewed coffee in one of the coffee shops along Session Road in December 2006.
“I owe it to my mentors because while I know I have the talent and the training, my connections with them worked well, enabling CNN to see my capabilities. The break I got thru them is something that cannot be measured and I was lucky I had what it takes – knowledge, connection, attitude, and a break.”
After 11 years, work in CNN remains to be exciting and fulfilling for Kathy. “I get to have the chance to meet and talk to big personalities of the countries within our area.” As an international media organization, there is the privilege to regularly interview and meet Prime Ministers, Presidents, Kings, Queens, and other big personalities. For Kathy, however, meeting big names is a common experience in media work. “At first, it gave excitement but as you go through it for a number of times, it develops a sense of ordinariness.”
In her 11 years of practice, first as a correspondent then video editor then producer and now bureau chief who doubles as on-cam reporter, the story they made after the tsunami hit Phuket, Thailand in 2004 is the most memorable.
She said that the story gave a human face, a human emotion to the disaster that made the world move. “We were the first international media organization who arrived in the scene. It was really a devastating view but we had to do our job, to tell the world about the after effect of the tsunami and after reporting on it, the world started to extend a hand for the victims. I saw how important media was especially in times of difficulties, that it can soften the hearts of people to help the others.”
From the tsunami came a story that featured “Victor,” a seven-year-old boy the CNN group found along the seashore looking for his entire family who were swept by the sea. He was alone and lost and it was indeed a pitiful scene. There, Victor met a lady who, like him, lost her entire family. “With them on their own, they decided to be a family,” Kathy said.
She added that the story was something that really struck them emotionally. “The entire crew was crying when we were doing the story. It was a tragic story, but a true to life story, which had a human face, a human experience.”
Her job with CNN is also filled with excitement. “Coverages are not always formal things, there are rough edges and because they are assignments from the head office in Atlanta, we have to go for it.” These coverages, she related, pose risks and while almost all her assignments are known by her family here in Baguio, there were times she first had to finish the assignment before her family was informed about it. “I didn’t want my family to be worried and risk is always a part of the job.”
With CNN, she said that a producer is a very important person because it is this position that makes things happen. “The producer must be resourceful, has a developed network, and a good working relationship with people. The handler of the positions finds out who is who in a story, who needs to be interviewed. She makes the appointments to the person involved and she is in charge of identifying the necessities and requirements to make a single story land on the screen that will create the impact.”
Lita said that before Kathy goes on air and there is time, she informs them. “I have always been proud seeing my daughter on television. Not only that, she informs us when she’s going on air because she likes to be informed of how she will improve.”
She added that Kathy has always been afraid to become a reporter and face the camera. “Before, she preferred the phone patch but as she stayed longer, she has set her mind on it and now, I am even prouder seeing her with her face on camera.”
Lita related that she saw how important her daughter’s job was during the coup d’ etat. “I was in Manila on training and she incidentally was covering for the Philippines when the coup broke out. She reported via phone patch and after that initial report, I saw how she made things possible for their Atlanta office to get in touch with the people they need to interview on air.”
Lita said that Kathy’s forté is on editing and producing. “She presents a story in a theatrical way, showing a different picture in a story.”
With the tasks placed on her shoulders, Kathy sees her being with CNN as just a job, which is not permanent in her as a person. “It is a rewarding job considering the image as well as the benefits but it is nothing permanent in me. I will have to leave the organization in due time or when I retire. I may be connected with a large international media organization but I am still an ordinary person. I am no different from other people and being with CNN is not license to look down on the others.”
For Kathy, the virtue of humility and being down to earth must always be at hand because it will make one go up some more. “Keep your feet on the ground, stay focused, strive for perfection, and never forget where you came from.”