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Learning to respect our own two feet

Learning to respect our own two feet

By VJ Bacungan

Veteran journalist Tessa Salazar is truly a rare breed of writer – and I’m not just saying this because I’m simultaneously her colleague and her biggest fan.

She is one of a handful of women who cover the motoring and mobility beats, which have traditionally been predominantly male spaces. But she made her way to the top by possessing a loquaciousness that transcends sex and gender, captivating audiences and the industry since she joined the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 1993.

Her wins at last Tuesday’s 23rd Henry Ford Awards are the latest in a string of accolades for Tessa, who has also covered science, health, information technology, and property beats in her illustrious writing career.

Over three decades on and recently retired, she continues to dazzle us all with her unparalleled turns of phrase in her “Roadtalk” column on Inquirer Motoring. Tessa has also branched out as an independent content creator with her new online outlet “TESSDrive,” which not only features the latest in mobility, but also showcases her unbridled passion for sustainable living.

Highlighting humans, tech

She told Inquirer Motoring in an exclusive interview that her motivation for the job has evolved since she started covering motoring in 2001.

“If you asked me this 23 years ago when I was a newbie in the beat, I would have told you that what motivates me to put out these stories was for me to gain recognition and respect,” Tessa said.

“I’ve outgrown this over time,” the communication arts graduate added. “I’ve grown to accept that we’re all only as good as the last articles we’ve put out, and respect and recognition are things that are actually beyond anyone’s control.”

Tessa said knowing the people behind the automobiles is what challenges her nowadays.

“What makes them tick, their own motivations, their life stories, etc.,” she said. “Humans are far more complex and harbor more drama than any machine out there. And I’m all for the drama!”

Tessa added that although the technology surrounding motoring and mobility remains fascinating, the human factor is vital to her work.

“Focusing too much on technology without getting to know the humans behind them is like missing the forest for the trees,” she said. “Mobility is a human endeavor, first and foremost. And humans make their impact on their environment with how they behave, not with how they think.”

Being a steward of the Earth

Tessa’s passion for the environment also drives her to write to this day.

“Apart from the obvious financial reasons, what also motivates me to write is that I’m able to push my various advocacies in my articles – my push for the use of sustainable materials in cars, use of non-animal sourced leather and plant-based materials in seats, tires, steering wheels, gear shifters, etc., and using non-coal sources of power for electric vehicles (i.e. solar),” she said.

And Tessa puts her money where her mouth (or pen) is – she not only adheres to a strict vegan lifestyle, but is also a dedicated animal rescuer.

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“At home, I take care of dozens of rescued stray cats, spayed and neutered already,” she said. ”On top of that, I’m helping to take care of my two elderly parents. If that isn’t motivation enough to continue writing, I don’t know what is.”

Moving on from cars

The word “mobility” has been used a lot, both in this story and in the Philippine motoring scene.

Tessa said it’s high-time that everybody, especially local motoring media, stops “paying too much attention to four-wheelers that are too expensive and occupy too much road space for the majority.”

“We, as Filipino media members who know what the majority of our fellow kababayans [countrymen] need in order to get around should shift our focus to smaller, lighter, and more affordable forms of mobility, as well as continue dwelling on developing mass transport solutions,” she said.

Tessa noted that the reason that electric bicycles and tricycles remain unregulated despite their huge popularity (and controversy) is a direct result of organized media not giving these vehicles the needed attention.

She added that the concept of mobility, which is the movement of individuals and groups across physical space and time, is more encompassing of what all Filipinos need.

“Walking is mobility, so is cycling,” she said. “We as writers and providers of content about mobility for mass media outfits should treat these most basic means of mobility with the same degree of attention and respect as we do for motorized transport. We learned to use our own two feet before we earned those driver’s licenses, didn’t we?”