It is rare to meet a woman you would trust with your life, but here was Cheche Lazaro, telling me about why she was retiring, what it is she’s most proud of, and where she will go from here—it was difficult not to be overwhelmed. After all, Cheche’s Probe Productions has so many awards tucked under its belt, and even more achievements that are invisible and non-material.
One such intangible honor is this: for my generation (I was born in the ‘70s), The Probe Team was a crucial touchstone for journalism, known for going the extra mile, crossing that roaring river, and taking a free fall off of a cliff—all for the possibility of a story, something the Philippines has always had in abundance, with too few tellers to tell them. Journalism was (and in some ways still is) a battlefield, fraught with danger and opponents, with the possibility of things exploding just under one’s feet an ever-present companion. As a truthsayer, Cheche Lazaro has been a hero in this field for a long time, so her retirement in many ways marks the end of an era.
But maybe this is getting ahead of the story. Read on to learn more about Cheche’s trials and triumphs. You can click on a section header to move directly to that part of the story, or you can simply scroll down and keep reading!
- A Long and Colorful Career
- To Dream the Impossible Dream
- A New Road to Travel, a New Story to Tell
- Proud to Be Pinay
A LONG AND COLORFUL CAREER
Cheche began her career as a journalist in the mid-1980s post-EDSA at ABS-CBN 2, where, soon enough, she found herself dreaming of her own media production outfit. With her friends Luchi Cruz-Valdes (now with ABC 5) and Maria Ressa (now with ABS-CBN 2), Probe Productions was born. Now, though Cheche is the only founder that remains, the group is one of the more credible and respected media companies in the country. You might have been too young to remember the beginnings of The Probe Team, but you must know of any or all of these shows: 5 and Up, Gameplan, Art Is Kool, Cheche Lazaro Presents, and Probe Profiles. All these happened under the leadership of Cheche.
In the course of Probe Productions’s 24-year life, Cheche has been a teacher in the College of Mass Communications at the University of the Philippines; she has faced the threat of her show’s suspension after resisting attempts to meddle with (the term she used was “censor”) a Probe story; and she has become the most concrete and consistent face of honest journalism in the country, with a reputation as a woman who cannot be paid off or kept quiet when something needs to be said.
But Cheche must know all of this to be true, here and now, when she seems to be unfazed by the prospect of retiring—but, then again, perhaps there really is nothing for her to be worried about! At least, not when there doesn’t seem to be anything that can unnerve her or anyone who can undo all the good she has already done. The years she spent as head honcho of Probe Productions were memorable ones, and there are many milestones upon which to look back.
“At one TV awards ceremony,” Cheche reminisces, “someone said that there are three companies that won the awards that season: GMA 7, ABS-CBN 2, and Probe.” To her, this was more “a compliment to the people of Probe, for the hard work, the creativity, the out-of-the-box thinking, [and] the willingness to not conform” than it was about her own efforts.
(Photo courtesy of PEP.ph)
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TO DREAM THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM
But behind every well-performing team is a leader with a clear view of what lies ahead, a vision of what needs to happen, and the determination and gumption to see things through and ensure that others work to do the same without anyone having to compromise their ethics. So much credit should still go to Cheche for the kind of award-winning journalism that Probe became successful in. After all, she was the one who decided to be “foolhardy and follow her dream” in the midst of non-believers who said it couldn’t be done.
“There were people who said that you can’t do [a show like Probe Team] because you’re not an established large company, you can’t put up an investigative news report show because there’s no audience for it, you can’t succeed because you don’t have a star who wears a tangga, [and] there’s no star element,” Cheche recalls. And she knew they were right, at least in the sense that, by all accounts, it did seem impossible, this dream of a show, which had “no airtime, no equipment, and no famous person.”
But the truth about foolhardy dreamers is that they believe in the possibility of making a square peg fit into a round hole, if that’s what it takes to take those dreams the world deems impossible and turn them into realities. Cheche is one such dreamer. And so she takes pride in the fact that Probe Productions was built from scratch, despite people who wanted to rain on their parade. She takes pride in all the people who have passed through their walls, people who have become her colleagues in the industry, taking on bigger jobs elsewhere. She takes pride in the strength of her company’s discipline, as well as the kind of journalism it believes in and sees through to its end.
As Cheche says about herself, “I walk my talk, I do my job.” And that job—for Probe, across all of its many productions—has been to prove that it’s always about the story. “Our argument [for Probe] was always that the star of the show is the story, and if we can make a good story, then that in itself is a source of pride.”
But Cheche never settled for any run-of-the-mill stories, the easier stories to tell. She wanted to tell stories that first of all presumed there was a Filipino audience interested in them, but also would allow these viewers to gain pride in themselves as Filipinos. “We wanted good television for the Filipino,” she says. And anyone who grew up with or followed Probe Production’s TV shows would be hard put to say that Cheche and her colleagues have done otherwise.
(Photo by Katrina Stuart Santiago)
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A NEW ROAD TO TRAVEL, A NEW STORY TO TELL
This story is about her now, of course, as she takes a graceful exit from Probe and the public life to enter the world of retirement and being a private individual. In contrast with the sadness of the people around her, Cheche seems exhilarated by the idea of becoming a full-time lola. Yes, the reason for the retirement was family, or, to be particular, a grandson who lives all the way in Boston and who unknowingly has his lola wrapped around his little finger.
While the dynamics of balancing work and family aren’t new to Cheche, making this one choice certainly is a first for her. While she knew when she began working as a journalist that the job should never ever interfere with family, the goal was always to keep both the professional and personal aspects of her life on an even keel. She saw her mother and grandmother work and maintain their families for most of their lives, and she couldn’t imagine not being like them. And so she became just like them, finding herself becoming a working mom as she fulfilled her personal and professional dreams, facing—and surviving!—the daunting task of juggling motherhood and work, family and profession, since she became a public personality.
She now thinks that she has passed this test with flying colors, but also remembers times of doubt. “I would always ask myself, did I do enough? Was I there enough?” Cheche says about bringing up her daughter. Yet, she also seems to be a woman who has let go of all insecurities and who just gets things done through sheer hard work and devotion. It might be precisely because of this that she’s also the woman who can say, “I’m done,” and do so with few (if any) regrets.
And done is precisely what she seems to be, at least with journalism, at least for the meantime—and glad of it, by all accounts! She shines in the midst of retirement parties and tributes, hectic closures that befit a two-decade run with what has become a media institution in itself. Cheche says she is relaxed and relieved: she has no shows to put up every week and Boston to look forward to. She says of the 24 years that it’s “Almost silvery!”—a response to the people who would have wished her to stay another year.
With Cheche’s decision to retire, we are also told that there are decisions that can be made for family, at the right time, for the most perfect of reasons. And if we are to look at Cheche’s devotion to her work, her love for country, and her sense of family, then we come to understand that these decisions become something we must earn the right to make.
PROUD TO BE PINAY
Cheche says that she learned two things from her family that have been crucial to the kind of person she has become. “One, I grew up in a family where women worked, and, two, I grew up in a family that was fiercely proud of being Filipino.”
Now, given her life and her work, Cheche has passed on more than just these two things to every Pinay who loves her nation, dreams foolhardy dreams, and hopes to live fully. She is a living, breathing example of a strong woman who knows what she wants and does what’s necessary to get it with as much flair and honesty as possible. The future of the Philippines can only get bigger, better, and brighter with women like Cheche Lazaro around.
(Photo courtesy of PEP.ph)