The treasures of Jessica Soho
KAPUSO DAY - Butch S. Raquel (The Philippine Star) - November 21, 2014 - 12:00am

Throughout her career as a broadcast journalist, Jessica Soho is used to telling stories about people from all walks of life. Heads of state. Beggars on the street. Indicted politicians. Champion athletes. Victims of calamities. And people who overcome improbable odds.

Given the numerous awards she has received over the years, many people would consider Jessica to be an exceptional storyteller. While she often tells stories about others, it is not often that she shares stories about her personal life.

“I am mindful that the story should always be about the people and events I cover — not the person covering them,” says Jessica, who recently steered her multi-awarded weekly magazine show, Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho (KMJS), to its 10th year on GMA 7.

For this special edition of Kapuso Day, however, Jessica put down her reporter’s notebook and roving microphone for a while and offered a rare glimpse into the treasures she values most in life.

Most treasured people: Jessica can never put a price tag on the memories she has with her family while growing up in La Union province.

As a child, she was nurtured with the love of her father, Abelardo, a government employee, and her mother, Maura, an agriculturist. Maura passed away when Jessica was eight years old, but not before giving words of advice the broadcast journalist treasures to this day. “Whenever I felt nervous, like when I had to go in front of a large crowd, my mother would always tell me, kaya mo yan. You can face them. Give it all you’ve got,” recalls Jessica.

A self-confessed lola’s girl, Jessica admits that her grandmothers — Sixta “Apo Ittang” Aspiras and Concepcion “Cion” Soho — influenced her in many ways.

“I was close to both grandmothers. I learned from them the value of hard work, the importance of education and other old-fashioned values in life,” says Jessica.

During weekdays, the young Jessica would stay with her Lola Cion in the urbanized part of San Fernando, then spend her weekends and summers with Apo Ittang in her barrio house in the town of Agoo.

“I think I had the best of both worlds. I grew up and experienced what it is like living in both urban and rural places. And I think it also gave me the chance to meet all kinds of people,” she says.

Childhood treasures: Apo Ittang was a schoolteacher, Jessica says, who was good at telling stories.

“When I was at Apo Ittang’s house, I would sleep beside her and she would tell me stories about her life during the Japanese occupation, her life as a student, and how she became an educator,” Jessica says of her maternal grandmother.

“I come from a family of great storytellers. My cousins on my mother’s side are the best. The wives of farmers would visit my Apo Ittang every morning and tell her stories and about their woes in life before borrowing money or asking for rice from her. She was kind and generous,” she adds.

On the other hand, Jessica’s paternal grandmother, Lola Cion, was a meat vendor who saved her siblings from poverty in Urdaneta, Pangasinan and also managed to send all her children to school even after her husband passed away.

Lola Cion woke up at four or five in the morning, without fail, to go to the market and sell meat. She would find time to go home and cook lunch. Then later in the afternoon, she would sell roasted corn, by the street, outside our house. She was really a hardworker. I can’t even recall a time when she had a day-off,” she says.

Jessica used to visit Lola Cion in the market after class. “She never asked me to help her, but I guess my curiosity of what market life is prompted me to always come over and give her a helping hand. She taught me the value of integrity and honesty.”

While the knack for storytelling comes from her mother’s side, culinary skills are strong in her father’s side.

Lola Cion was good at cooking, and my aunties were able to inherit her longganisa recipe. Her pakbet was good, too. I’m glad that I can cook that recipe,” shares Jessica. “My dad’s father, a Cantonese, put up the very first Chinese restaurant in our town, before the war,” she adds.

As part of KMJS’ 10th anniversary celebration, Jessica and Kapuso Primetime Queen Marian Rivera raised funds for survivors of Supertyphoon Yolanda by selling tapa made by her dad from his Chinese uncle’s recipe and her Lola Cion’s longganisa. KMJS was able to raise P30,000, which was donated to the GMA Kapuso Foundation.

Finding treasure… in China: Of the other stories done for KMJS, Jessica will always remember her trip to China to trace her family roots.

“For the longest time, it was my wish to reach my grandfather’s hometown,” Jessica says, noting that it was the KMJS production team that helped turn this dream into a reality.

Her paternal grandfather died when she was no more than two years old. Growing up, she would hear stories from her grandfather’s brother about life in China, and even taught her some Chinese words.

With just a photo of her grandfather and a few details, KMJS sought the assistance of a government office in China that helps Chinese citizens overseas trace their ancestry.

“When we arrived in the province with a guide, we scoured two or three villages before we were able to find the house of my relatives,” recounts Jessica. 

She adds, “The only thing that we had as our clue was the photo of my grandfather. My relatives there said they have the same photo.”

Jessica found familiar objects in Guangdong like some vegetables and mosquito nets she grew up seeing in La Union. When she toured her grandfather’s ancestral house, the broadcast journalist recalls that, “strangely, it felt like home. I really felt the connection.”

Most treasured object: Jessica is not the type of person who has a strong attachment to material things. She recently made an exception, however, after vowing to safekeep and preserve pieces of furniture used by her ancestors from both sides of the family.

“My Chinese grandfather (my dad’s uncle) was both a chef and a carpenter. He made a few pieces of furniture, which I recently got a hold of from my uncles. I told my relatives that I will preserve the furniture for future generations of our family, so we could tell them that these were made by our ancestors,” she says.

Jessica currently has two of Apo Ittang’s chest boxes, which were used to store fruits and her grandmother’s clothes, as well as her Chinese grandfather’s bookcase, cabinet, bed and the dining table used by her dad’s family.

Most treasured place: Through the course of her work over the last 30 years, Jessica has been fortunate enough to visit top destinations across the globe. However, her heart truly belongs at home.

“I rarely have vacations because of work. Bihirang-bihira. So whenever there are occasions, I really go home to our province. Talagang no place like home,” Jessica says.

She adds that she really misses her family’s ancestral house in Agoo, which was destroyed by the 1990 killer quake that devastated Luzon.

Most treasured travel destinations: Asked where her most treasured travel destinations abroad are, Jessica ponders for a while before revealing her answers: Afghanistan and China.

“Right now, I would like to spend more time in Europe and discover more unexplored places there. I love Italy and the south of France but all these places are accessible to most people. But not all people will go to Afghanistan or in Peshawar, one of the most dangerous places in Pakistan. So, I also treasure those places.”

Jessica remembers Kabul province in Afghanistan for two distinct reasons: Firstly, it had a colorful alley called Chicken Street, which was filled with attractive souvenir stores. “It was very quaint and it was interesting to go inside the shops,” she says.

However, Jessica also remembers Bhagram, a village outside an American base, where a landmine exploded just a few feet away from her and her news crew in 2002.

Most treasured moment: Last June, Jessica announced her retirement as an executive of GMA Network, but stayed on as a talent. She wrapped up her tenure with the position of first vice president for News Programs of GMA Network. In spite of the changes with her work, Jessica still finds “me time” a luxury. Eight hours of sleep, she says, is one such luxury.

“It’s a treasured moment for me when I have nothing to do — that’s very rare. When I don’t have any appointments, deadlines, requirements, flight to catch, or reason to wake up early — these are precious to me,” shares Jessica.

In between busy schedules, the veteran broadcast journalist fervently seeks guidance from the Lord. “I always pray and ask God to always remind me to try and be a good person. Our job is so stressful it’s easy to go astray so I always pray that God keep me kind and humble.”

Most treasured moment as a Kapuso personality: She considers her 30 years in the broadcast industry as important, but Jessica still treasures the most her first day on the job.

Siyempre, when I was hired!” exclaims Jessica, who officially joined GMA News in January 1985.

Jessica wanted to be a lawyer, but that all changed after hearing an inspiring talk from the late journalist Louie Beltran (who also used to write in the Opinion page of this paper). She ended up shifting from Political Science to Journalism, which she also saw as a way to evade Math subjects.

Back then, Beltran mentioned to Jessica that GMA News was interested in hiring journalism graduates. “So I tried. I never planned to be a reporter. I just wanted to have a job. I was even willing to accept whatever job they would give me — production assistant, writer, phone operator — any work was okay with me as long as I was in,” says Jessica.

She considered herself lucky because whenever a team was in need of a reporter, she was available in the office. When former desk editor Rey Vidal found out that she knew how to write news, she started reporting regularly.

“My father was a solid GMA viewer, and the biggest fan of Tina Monzon-Palma. But it never crossed my mind that I would someday be reporting the news in GMA and that Tina would call in my reports and say, ‘Jessica Soho reports,’” she recalls.

And the rest, as they say, is history for this lola’s girl-turned-broadcast journalist, who will always have a good story to tell.

ALWAYS APO ITTANG GMA GRANDFATHER JESSICA JESSICA SOHO LA UNION LIFE LOLA
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