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PhilSTAR L!fe Recommends: The best stories of 2021

By PhilSTAR L!fe Published Dec 23, 2021 11:23 pm

The COVID-19 pandemic continued to be one of the overarching stories of 2021, but there were also other equally great stories that unfolded this year.

For this outing of "PhilSTAR L!fe recommends," we take a look at the great stories that came out this year in our publication, as well as in other platforms, because well, no one has a monopoly on great storytelling.

This year-ender also takes its cue from the yearly "Jealousy List" that Bloomberg regularly publishes at the close of a year, as a hat tip to stories produced by other media colleagues that were so good they wished they had written it themselves. (For those keen on reading up more long-form features for the holidays, Longreads' yearly wrap also offers a great selection.)

Here are the best stories of 2021 for the PhilSTAR L!fe team.

Saab Lariosa, content producer

When giving up is an option by Annicca Albano, PhilSTAR L!fe

There’s a quote from essayist Jia Tolentino that stayed with me at the start of the year, and it goes: “I wanted to experience myself as soft and loose and purposeless, three qualities that, in my adulthood, have always seemed economically risky."

While there’s much to be said about hustle culture, this vulnerable piece serves as an important discussion on not equating your output to your value—something that many Gen Z workers like myself are realizing in this pandemic.

I’m a millennial journalist that started off when Rappler did by Natashya Gutierrez, Rappler

Meanwhile, this piece from veteran journalist Natashya Gutierrez shows the better side of the hustle culture spectrum.

Gutierrez is the editor in chief of Vice Media Group in Asia-Pacific and the former bureau chief of Rappler Indonesia, but before that, she was a Psychology major who wanted to absorb journalism like a sponge. This piece chronicles her 10-year journey from sliding into Maria Ressa’s Twitter DMs to fighting tooth and nail to where she is now. There is always something moving about people who do so much with so little, and as a fellow Psychology major trying to make her way like Gutierrez had, this quickly became a personal favorite.

Hannah Mallorca, content producer

How a love story happened when hard rock met K-pop by Monique Toda, PhilSTAR L!fe

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Just when K-pop stans thought they wouldn’t miss watching concerts any less, this story reminded us about the adrenaline rush and excitement of seeing our favorite idols perform onstage. Apart from showing a glimpse of how “Inang” Happee Sy, Vernon Go, and PULP bring K-pop idols to the local stage, it told a story of how it all began—which started with love.

There’s a name for that blah you’re feeling: it’s called languishing by Adam Grant, The New York Times

It’s year two since COVID-19 broke out—and the majority of us are losing the remnants of our hopeful batteries. From the surface, it’s easy to say that we’re “fine” amid the pandemic-induced nightmare yet we’re trying our best to hold on. This story perfectly sums up what I’ve been feeling since 2021 started. In other words, it’s the popular lyrics “I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing” in an article.

Pinky Icamen, content producer

‘Namatay siya sa pagkakahimbing’: Longtime driver recalls moments before Noynoy was rushed to the hospital by Büm Tenorio, Jr., The Philippine STAR

In this story, award-winning STAR columnist Büm Tenorio Jr. captured what transpired hours before and after former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III breathed his last through the eyes of his trusted driver, Nory Mariano.

Mariano, whom Tenorio described as misty eyed, “has dignity in his tone” and “takes pride that he served a good, incorruptible man,” shared some never-before heard stories of the late president not only during his presidency but also as Citizen Noy.

Tenorio’s moving piece is among PhilStar L!fe’s most read stories of 2021.

What Was Donald Trump’s Twitter? by John Herman, The New York Times

Twitter permanently bans then US President Donald Trump on the social media platform—this news was just music to my ears. The move from Twitter may be a case of too little, too late but taking away from Trump a huge platform that gave him a tinge of relevancy is a win for 2021… and for humanity.

Nick Garcia, content producer

Pink as the dye of war by Joel Pablo Salud, PhilSTAR L!fe

Even before I joined PhilSTAR L!fe this December, I've already been reading its articles. Joel Pablo Salud's Oct. 7 opinion piece on Leni Robredo's announcement of her presidential bid—and rebranding into pink—has really piqued my interest.

Not necessarily because of the subject matter but because of how Salud was able to delineate the color's history, connect it to his personal experience, and finally tie it up with the political implication of the announcement.

For me, the idiomatic expressions about pink and the lyrical reference to Pink Floyd were especially genius.

PNoy was My Boss: A delayed dispatch from an ex-Palace speechwriter by Gian Lao, ANCX

President Noynoy Aquino's passing on June 24 came as a shock to most, if not all, Filipinos. The media has been especially active, providing constant updates left, right, and center throughout the day.

But it was the very next day's news cycle that left me awestruck, when the essay of Gian Lao, who turned out to be the late president's former speechwriter, came out.

Lao's tribute was written with much grace and care that I find myself rereading it on several occasions. I especially admire how he intermingled humor and sobriety throughout the piece.

Ayie Licsi, content producer 

Writing the Pinay teenage lesbian by Purple Romero, PhilSTAR L!fe

I love how in this story, Purple wrote about how big of an impact reading women loving women stories are for her, and how she discovered her sexuality because of it. I wrote a similar feature on Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz’s Tingle anthology, which showed the spectrum of stories Filipina lesbians have to tell—it’s not just always about romance and coming out, there’s struggle, politics, and more.

Overworking is not a healthy way to grieve by Angela Lanuza

When I stumbled upon this article on Facebook one August day, I knew I just had to read it from the title alone. I wasn’t in a good place or headspace, and reading this somehow made me self-aware with how I was dealing with stuff.

Brooke Villanueva, content producer

No matter what dreamers think by Joel Pablo Salud, PhilSTAR L!fe

As a dreamer, this story by our contributor Joel S. Salud touched my heart. I remember what my editor once told me, that I don’t have to chase one exact dream because oftentimes, it doesn’t happen that way. “They trickle, pop up, run around, which makes chasing it exciting.” This article sparked hope and served as the perfect reminder that things may work out in one way or another—when it’s my time.

“Don’t give up on the dream, not just yet. One thing I’ve learned is that dreams don’t give up on the dreamer too easily. No matter what the dreamer thinks.”—Joel S. Salud

The Texas abortion law is a human rights crisis for American women by Uma Thurman, The Washington Post

My admiration for American actress Uma Thurman doubled—tripled, even—when she wrote this op-ed article for The Washington Post when criticisms of the abortion law in Texas were still hot. As per CNN International, the law prohibits abortion “when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is often before a woman knows she is pregnant,” without the exception for rape or incest. I think it’s brave. Her powerful piece gave me courage and inspiration to continue chasing big stories that tackle a wide range of issues, no matter how difficult and controversial they may seem.

Red Dimaandal, social media manager

How a former magazine editor turned beauty editing into a business with a heart by Belle Rodolfo, PhilSTAR L!fe

This inspiring story of Nicole Limos is an easy pick for me! I’ve always loved working for the beauty industry, and their inviting and inspiring place full of powerful #girlbosses, evolving ideas, and conversations about the merits of one holy grail beauty product over another. Since I’m constantly surrounded by such strong (and beauty obsessed) women, here, I want to highlight the story of this former beauty editor, who’s now fully independent as she launched The Beauty Edit, a media platform and subscription box for beauty addicts.

Save Ralph - A short film with Taika Waititi

I first saw this heartbreaking story of Ralph on Facebook, which illustrates the animal protection movement. This is not an article, but I feel like this story really struck me the most—it’s plain-spoken, sad, and eye-opening.

The video follows a lab rabbit’s daily life and it starts by showing its daily morning routine—eating breakfast, brushing their teeth, etc. Right after, the rabbit is taken to a lab, where other animals, who are being tested, are screaming for help and trying to make the scientists stop. Painful experiments have left Ralph blind in one eye. He is also suffering from skin irritation and a constant buzzing in one ear, but he reassures the viewer that he’s just doing his job to ensure humans have safe shampoo. 

The project “Save Ralph” was created to bring awareness of something that has been happening for many years but without the public really knowing what was going on as people ignored cruelty-free and vegan labels on products, not understanding what it really meant. Animals used by the cosmetics testing industry have long suffered in silence. But they now have a new spokes-bunny—Ralph, who is telling it like it is.

Bim Santos, Head Editor

A plate of lasagna, a dash of Filipina charm, and my 40 wonderful years of public service at the Department of Finance by Maria Teresa Habitan, PhilSTAR L!fe

This personal essay by a well-respected career public servant who served for 40 years was a revealing valedictory piece on the struggles, challenges, and joy of working for the government. That it has humor, wit and colorful anecdotes in spades certainly made the piece so much brighter. It was no small wonder that this essay resonated so well within the public and private sector.

This piece was a joy to edit, produce, and publish. 

Tokyo 2020 Olympics Closing Ceremony by BBC's Andrew Cotter

This highly moving wrap of the Tokyo Olympics perfectly captured the entire historic and human narrative of the Tokyo Olympics. In just under four minutes, it portrayed the life, energy, light, color, and the sounds of the Olympics in a way only TV journalism could. Cotter’s prose was clearly inimitable, thoughtful and insightful, but the entire production was also pitch perfect, from the sound design, to the pictures that were both on point at every turn of Cotter’s script. 

I have watched this a number of times than I would admit, transcribed the voice over script just because, and committed a few lines to memory because why not. This was an amazing piece of storytelling that did more than justice to an equally amazing event.