How a true crime podcast revived 30-year-old archives of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
“I want to make a True Crime podcast!” Pam Pastor, the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s ‘Super’ editor said in 2019. We were at our first content planning meeting, trying to figure out what kinds of podcasts we would make with their team. Pam is one of the great champions for podcasting on the Inquirer team and a fan of podcasts in general, but especially True Crime pods. I knew we needed to match her excitement.
“Let’s do it!” I said, knowing that we had always planned to make a True Crime podcast since we started PumaPodcast. This seemed like the perfect partnership to do it.
“Let’s launch in two weeks!” Pam said back. I knew we could work fast, but also I knew this would take longer than two weeks. At the time, we had no idea how long it would take because it was such a big, challenging project.
One big challenge: the genre is filled with serial killers. How do you make a podcast in the Philippines where serial killers aren’t (thankfully!) all that common?
We thought of major crimes that had dominated news cycles and imaginations. We made lists of stories that we could dig into. While we were developing the podcast, jailed former Mayor Antonio Sanchez was in the headlines. He was being considered for early release, well before his forty year sentence for masterminding the rape-slay of college student Eileen Sarmenta and her friend Allan Gomez.
If we could respond to this news development, we could not only make a great crime podcast, but we could tell a story that would continue to give justice to Sarmenta and Gomez. And it’s through this that we also hit upon our big idea for (our) True Crime podcasting in the Philippines. While in other countries it’s about individuals like serial killers who plan and commit murders, in the Philippines, it’s about the powerful — particularly the politically powerful — who commit crime with impunity. That’s who’s behind True Crime here.
We had our topic. We had our angle. And now we had to get to work.
This work found Pam and the rest of the PumaPodcast team, led by our Chief of Content Tricia Aquino and our Head of Audio Marc Casillan, digging deep into the case. Not only did the Inquirer have archives that dated back to the crime from 30 years ago, but they still had access to the reporters who originally covered the case. (Try and check out the episode where Ruel S. De Vera describes being in the courtroom as the verdict is announced!)
Pam literally got her hands dirty, sending us photos of her inked up hands from going through the archives. And she, Tricia, and Marc even headed to Calauan, Laguna, where the murders happened, to do on-site research. They also interviewed key figures who were part of the investigation, the trial, and other aspects of the case.
As the research progressed, PumaPodcast held regular Writers’ Rooms, where we would all huddle up, put our findings on the whiteboard (pre-pandemic a literal white board with Post-Its, but as we created through the pandemic we had to shift to digital), and try to find the right ways to tell the expansive story.
We were bringing together our findings, the clippings and audio from 30 years ago, and the needs for justice in the present day. It would take us almost a year to do all the research, writing, brainstorming, field work, sound design, audio and post-production, and every other piece that was needed to tell this story. Sure there are faster, easier ways to tell this story. But again, we needed to do it justice and the work, the time, the approach, were part of that.
This is a story we couldn’t have told without Pam’s enthusiasm, hard work, storytelling, and dogged determination to make the best True Crime podcast she could. At the same time, we like to think that this is a story she couldn’t have told without us, our willingness to roll up our sleeves and get into the story right next to her and to bring our audio imaginations to make this a powerful piece of media.
The results speak for themselves. “Super Evil” won an Anvil Award for PR Tools — one of the first podcasts in the Philippines to do so — proving the value of reviving the Inquirer archive for the podcast medium. Beyond that industry recognition, it connected powerfully with fans. It got tens of thousands of plays per episode. And we had fans reaching out telling us they were so hooked, they would listen to episodes multiple times in anticipation of the next episode.
The success of “Super Evil” led to a second season, where we covered the Maguindanao massacre. And it inspired us to do other series that cover political crime, like “Modus: The Pharmally Con” which we released in 2022.
And at risk of getting fans excited, we’ve got more in the works.
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