Bernadette Sembrano: The Song of Bernadette

MANILA, Philippines - Award-winning news anchor and broadcast journalist Bernadette Sembrano has the gift of connecting with people, making friends out of strangers just five minutes after an introduction. And it is precisely with this gift that Bernadette hopes to help others, by shedding light on issues that are overlooked and bridging the gap between two parties that couldn’t care less.

Bernadette Sembrano — before she was catapulted into fame by Wish Ko Lang, The Probe Team (now called the Probe Profiles), The Correspondents and Umagang Kay Ganda — was just a regular corporate gal who worked at the bank. A graduate of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines, Bernadette led a quiet, practical life. That was until a serendipitous offer appeared. Her brother saw on TV that IBC 13 was in search of a newscaster. Why he thought she would be interested, she doesn’t remember. But since she was planning to resign from her job anyway, she submitted her resumé.

Fast forward 14 years later. The young lady who showed up to her audition in just a plain white shirt, unruly hair and no makeup is now recognized as one of the most awarded hosts and most admired female personalities on television — and a stylish one at that! Bernadette chuckles, “It came as a complete surprise (when PeopleAsia invited me to be one of its Women of Style and Substance). Me? A woman of style?” Yes. She’s stylish and she is worthy to be recognized as a woman of substance.

Maybe she has Donita Rose to partly thank for that. Bernadette shares that in 2007, it was Donita who begged her to get a stylist. And after much prodding, she obliged. She also started working out religiously and soon enough, she was turning heads and getting second glances.

Innumerable career victories also started to march her way. She won Best TV Anchor in the 9th Gawad Tanglaw awards, Most Admired Female TV Personality at the Anak TV Seal Awards and Best Morning Show Host for Umagang Kay Ganda at the Star Awards for TV.

Though she wishes she could dress up more glamorously now, Bernadette finds herself donning her crisp white shirt, cargo pants and sneakers, with her hair tied in a ponytail. Of course, comfort and convenience take precedence over what’s fashionable, especially in a job that takes you up mountains, sailing down rivers, climbing dangerous terrain and hitching on every type of possible transportation. You have to be ready to rough it out, she chuckles.

Path to Fame

 

Bernadette first became a household name when she hosted GMA 7’s highly-rated Wish Ko Lang, a tear-jerking program that grants a person’s most fervent wishes. Whether it was a family being reunited or watching a little boy finally have his dreams come true, the nation eagerly awaited every episode with tissue at hand — to smile, to weep, to laugh together.

While she was tugging at the nation’s heartstrings with Wish Ko Lang, she was also delivering exposés on The Probe Team, the weekly investigative program that “tackled pressing societal concerns and exposed the hard truths in Philippine society.”

The two shows dealt with completely different topics and entailed reporting in totally different styles. While Wish Ko Lang required a softer, nurturing persona from Bernadette, The Probe Team, required her to be hard-hitting and straightforward. Shifting personas was more awkward than difficult for the young Bernadette, who at the time, was still trying to grasp her identity as a journalist. Was she a hard-hitting journalist or a soft news reporter and host? 

The question was irrelevant. She learned this from Howie Severino, another award-winning journalist and colleague on The Probe Team. “(Howie taught me that) it’s always about the story. Sometimes when you’re on TV, you focus too much on yourself, not on what has to be said. It’s really not about you,” she explains. “When they watch you, they shouldn’t see you, the reporter. They should be getting the information and news they need. You should be answering their questions such as, ‘Why should I care? Why should this matter to me’?”

Cheche Lazaro, whom she fondly calls “Ninang,” also comforted the young journalist. Bernadette shared how she felt a little out of place because she didn’t quite have the same “face” and “stance” as other reporters. Lazaro reminded Bernadette to just be true to herself. If people are drawn towards you as a soft news reporter, embrace it. Why veer away from it? “That’s your gift. You can ask the question without coming off as abrasive. Only you can do that,” she said to her.

Bernadette has since embraced her gift and has happily taken on more programs geared towards public service such as Lingkod Kapamilya and other NGO work. Her focus is no longer “Who am I?” Now it’s “How do I make people care?” 

In 2003, certain circumstances led Bernadette to move out of GMA. Bernadette — literally — walked out and never looked back.

While tough and dramatic, Bernadette admits that she could’ve handled the situation with much more maturity. “From that episode, I learned to choose my battles. I learned that politics is not only found in the network. You will encounter it outside as well. Meron talagang kokontra sa paniniwala mo, but how do you deal with that? Pwede kang magpaka-hermit and say ‘I don’t want the world around me,’ or do you make the most of what you have and how things are?” Wiser now, Bernadette has learned that while her opinion and principles may not always agree with others, she doesn’t have to fight it out with every one who would think otherwise. She has never walked out of any problem since.

Making the most of it

 

With work that has brought her all over the country, from the most famous to the most far-flung barangays on the archipelago, Bernadette, now Mrs. Emilio Aguinaldo III, feels blessed to have had the opportunity to meet people and be an instrument in sharing their stories. Taken from an entry in her diary, which she has been religiously updating since she was in high school, Bernadette shares, “Because of all the people that I’ve encountered, the stories I’ve heard and told, the grief and joys that they shared, my life is so much richer. And I would like to think that I am a better person, more enlightened than how I was before. “

When asked which of her many stories has resonated with her the most, she answers, “I can’t really pinpoint anymore what story. I may not remember the person or the story anymore but my heart remembers. The constant interaction with the people changes you as a person.”

Lately, though, she is drawn towards shedding light on people and issues that are usually left unnoticed — like the communities of the Dumagats, the schools in Sierra Madre, the marginalized and others. “The rich, they have access to information already and have the means and ways to voice out their concerns. The poor, they don’t have that yet so I would like to help them.” She seeks to give them a voice, may it be through the news when she is co-anchoring TV Patrol Weekend and ANC Top Story, or giving help and advice on Salamat Dok and Lingkod Kapamilya. She does the same when she hosts DZMM Radyo Patrol Alas Kuwatro with Alex Santos, or when she pens her column for The Philippine Star and Bulgar.

Bernadette shares that as part of her personal mission, she also plans to come out with a book, a compilation of all of the advocacies in the Philippines. “There are a lot of people who want to help, they just don’t know how and they don’t know who to contact,” she explains. So she hopes that one day the book can serve as a guide and reference.

Bernadette concludes the interview with an excerpt from her diary:

“With the patients that we assist in Lingkod Kapamilya, my quiet prayer for them is ‘Lord, help them get better. I pray for peace and strength for the loved ones.’ We can try to do our best to help, but God always has his ways, ways that we may not understand. Patients pass away no matter how hard we pray. But though they cannot be healed of their illness, at least, we hope, they passed away in peace, knowing that people care for them.

“When I do stories, one thing is clear to me: I do it to make people care.”

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