On Becoming A Writer


Mr. Tacio, who hails from Davao, is a correspondent of the Asian edition of Reader’s Digest. He is the first and only Filipino journalist to have been elevated to the Hall of Fame in science reporting by the Philippine Press Institute. In 1999, the Rotary Club of Manila bestowed him the Journalist of the Year award. He is also East Asia’s contributing editor of the People & the Planet based in London.

For comments, henrytacio@gmail.com

I really never dreamed of becoming a writer or a journalist. What I wanted, when I was still a kid, was to become an illustrator – just like my idols (Mar T. Santana, Vincent Kua, Jr. and Karl Commendador).

But then, I lived in a far, far away place somewhere in Davao del Sur. I assumed at that time that I won’t go far if I pursued a career on being an illustrator. So, I decided to change my lifetime vision: a writer.

I was in high school when started reading books, the Holy Bible, some novels (because we had to submit a home reading report every month), and magazines. At the library, my classmates would find me reading “Reader’s Digest.” Among my favorites were “Laughter, the best medicine,” “Life in these islands,” and those true-to-life stories.

On Becoming A Writer 2There was time when I tried sending some contributions to “Reader’s Digest.” They were never published but I still wished that someday I would see my byline in the prestigious publication.

(Not knowing that several years later, I would be writing for “Reader’s Digest.” And not just anecdotes but fulllength features about health. The very first article, published in 2000, was about dengue fever.)

I was already in college when my first article was published in “Mod,” a national magazine. First, there were few paragraph articles until I finally wrote in-depth stories. Some of those even won me recognition in Science and Technology Journalism Awards. My article on HIV/AIDS, entitled, “Who says AIDS doesn’t matter?” earned me an award in the AIDS Media Contest – that led me a travel grant to attend AIDS international conferences in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Melbourne (Australia) and Durban (South Africa).

Aside from “Mod,” I also wrote for other magazines like “Woman’s Home Companion,” “Women’s Journal,” “Woman Today,” “Panorama” (the Sunday magazine of then “Bulletin Today”) and “Expressweek” (of “The Daily Express”).

I had already graduated from college when I started writing for newspapers. Actually, I started writing for a local daily called “Ang Peryodiko Dabaw.” I wrote mostly agricultural stories since I was working at that time for a non-government organization. This led me to write a regular column, “Agribiz Jottings.” In addition, I wrote another column entitled “Regarding Henry,” which I took from a movie starring Harrison Ford.

On Becoming A Writer 3Antonio M. Ajero, then the editor-in-chief of the local daily, saw my potential as a journalist. “Why don’t you write for Press Foundation of Asia?” he told me. I found out later that PFA released a weekly dispatch (DEPTHnews) which was circulated not only in the Philippines but throughout Asia.

It was through PFA that I was able to join the trainings it conducted every now and then. The first training I attended was on business and economics which were held in Laguna, Cebu and Bacolod.

I also attended another seminar on agricultural reporting, where I had the pleasure of meeting the famous Juan Mercado. “So, you are the Henrylito Tacio they are talking about,” he told me during our first encounter.

During a break, he asked me if I had already a Philippine passport. (Five months earlier, I decided to get a passport even though there was no plan of going abroad.) “Yes, I have,” I replied. “Next month, you will be going Bangkok to attend a training on food security for Asian journalists.”

That was my first trip abroad. I was in my early 20s.

The 1990s saw me venturing into the national dailies. First, I joined Today, where Elmer Cato was my editor. Then after winning the Hall of Fame in science reporting in 1998, I transferred to “Philippine Daily Inquirer” through the invitation of Isagani Yambot.

In 1999, I got the surprise of my life when I won the Journalist of the Year from the Rotary Club of Manila. Journalists from the three big islands (Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon) were given recognition and so were three journalists from Metro Manila.

It was also at this time that I got an e-mail from Peter Dockrill. He asked me to meet him in Manila as he was interested to talk with me and for a possible story to write. I really didn’t know who he was and so I told him to come to Davao City if he wanted.

He did. We were talking at the lobby of the Marco Polo when he inquired if I was interested to write for “Reader’s Digest.” I was stunned; I never expected that he would make an offer that I could not answer negatively. The rest was history.

Being an environmentalist, I wrote for a London-based publication called “People and the Planet.” One of its contributors, Don Hinrichsen, became a friend. Then, one time, he asked me if I was interested to co-author a paper on water and population for Washington, D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson Institute for Scholars.

“You can either come to the United States or I go to the Philippines,” he suggested. Since I had never been to the US yet, I asked him if I can go there instead of him coming to the country.

And that was how I was able to come to the US, a country which I used to dream to visit when I was still a little kid.

Yes, writing is easy but it is also hard. To those who write, it seems easier but to those who don’t, writing is such a herculean task.

So, how will you become a writer? Well, listen to the suggestion of Uzodinma Iweala: “Write. Write. Write. Don’t worry so much about being published or discovered. Worry about writing what you have to write – what you need to say, and how you’re going to say it. The rest will come.”

Iweala is damned right!