Tess Bacalla is editor-in-chief of Asia Democracy Chronicles. She is also a journalism lecturer at De La Salle University in Manila. Before sitting on a panel for the Zócalo event “Are Elected Presidents Bad for Democracy?”—presented in partnership with Democracy International and Metropolitan Autonomous University for the Global Forum for Modern Direct Democracy 2023—she joined us in our traveling green room to talk people power, journalism, and how learning makes you more human, and humane.
Where is one of your favorite places to go in Manila?
My place, in Tagaytay. It’s part of a province called Cavite, south of Manila. Not too far from Manila—about a two-hour drive. It’s quiet, cool, and I’m surrounded by trees; a mini-forest.
Who is your dream dinner guest—dead or alive?
Cory Aquino, our former president. She’s passed on.
As a journalist, what do you wish readers would know about your work?
That democracy cannot do without journalists. They matter. For all the repression, the unfair public criticism—especially when there are critical reports coming out—the recent accusations of being biased, journalists have an important role to play in society.
What is one example of people-centered democracy that inspires you?
Our own. Because after 20 years of Marcos’ dictatorship, we were able to force him out of power peacefully.
What is some advice you give your students?
Treat education as a lifelong pursuit. That you’ve earned your college degree doesn’t mean education should stop. Learning is a never-ending process. And it makes you more human—and humane, I hope.
What is some good advice you’ve received?
Not to take yourself too seriously. If you get embarrassed, don’t dwell on it. It’s simple, but it’s meant a lot to me.
What is something that you’ve enjoyed here in Mexico City?
The sight of the square [the Zócalo]. It’s awesome. We had our lunch there the other day.
Where do you find hope for democracy’s future?
People’s resilience. I’ve seen it in my own country. Look at where you are, almost 40 years after the People Power Revolution. We’re in a mess, but I’ve not given up hope. When I see people taking to the streets… when I see young people taking action—not being passive—that gives me hope. And I always believe in divine intervention. It can’t just be people doing things on their own.