Broadcast journalist-turned-pilot and now AirAsia public affairs manager and spokesperson Steve Dailisan had his fair share of recent losses and wins. As his life colorfully unfolds in the public eye, he inadvertently becomes a symbol of hope and perseverance amid challenging times.
Life can really pull the rug out from under your feet.
Like many of us, Steve Dailisan kicked off 2020 with excitement and anticipation for new beginnings. After all, January 7 marked a milestone in his aviation career when he was finally released to fly as First Officer pilot of Cebu Pacific. It was a culmination of 18 months of hard work, focused studying, training, budget management and an overall delicate balancing act. He even left his more than a decade of successful career as a GMA 7 broadcast journalist to pursue his love of flying.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, followed by life-altering personal losses.
Steve was suddenly swept up in a maelstrom of change.
The Consummate Planner
The former GMA 7 reporter first came into our collective consciousness with his signature extro “Steeeve Dailisan” in his news reports. The next time we caught wind of what he’s up to, he has become the subject of news himself for making a 180-degree career turn as a pilot.
As a young child, Steve describes himself as “pinakamakulit at pinakapasaway sa magkakapatid”, that’s why his family never really imagined him to be the type who would seriously and responsibly pursue a steady career.
Growing up with separated parents, Steve found himself shuttling back and forth with his siblings in various places to either be with their mother or father. They were originally from Las Piñas but after the separation, his mother took him and his siblings to Zamboanga. After some time, it was their father’s turn to take the kids to Aklan where he finished his elementary education, and later moved yet again to Quezon City. Steve finished his high school and college years in Bulacan.
“Hindi siya normal for me that time kasi parang hindi mo alam kung saan ka next year. It’s difficult but also funny when someone would say naging classmate ko siya sa dami ng schools na napasukan ko,” he shares.
“But when I started working at GMA 7, blessing pala na nag-transfer ako ng provinces kasi I can speak Chavacano, Hiligaynon, Cebuano at malalim akong mag-Tagalog. Advantage siya lalo na sa profession ko before. Mas madaling mag-interview sa probinsiya,” he explains.
In a way, his young life shaped the way he is today — goal-oriented and levelheaded.
“Natuto akong maging responsible at a very early age. Maaga akong natutong magsaing, mag-igib ng tubig at may younger sister ako na inalagaan. Kailangan magsikap ding mag-aral. I think ‘yung pagiging responsible, natutunan ko hindi dahil ginusto ko kundi itinuro siya sa akin ng circumstances,” he ruminates.
Steve also once taught in Adamson University and PUP (Polytechnic University of the Philippines) where he was often described by his students, and even his colleagues at work, as a perfectionist though he clarifies that he only strives for excellence and not perfection. The 34-year-old is certainly intense in his commitment to do his best.
His 12-year stay with GMA Network enabled him to further his career as a multi-awarded broadcast journalist, which includes becoming a World Silver Medalist at the 2014 New York Festival and a finalist at the 2013 Japan Prize for his documentary “Kicks of Hope (Sipa ng Pag-Asa)”, which featured the dream of two young brothers from Payatas to rise out of poverty through football.
It came as a surprise to his parents and even to his bosses at GMA when he tendered his resignation in 2018.
“I consulted my parents about it and they thought I was joking. Parang they felt na ‘Okay ka na dyan, you’re well-established na sa career mo and we’re happy seeing you everyday doing the news.’ Even my bosses at GMA thought na lilipat lang ako ng network,” he shares.
Steve led a successful career as a GMA 7 broadcast journalist
But Steve had already set his sights on becoming a pilot.
“It was not a childhood dream. Never na sumagi talaga sa isip ko kasi hindi naman kami mayaman. In fact, we were struggling. Pero ever since naman, sobrang kinikilig ako kapag nasa loob ako ng eroplano. Tapos lagi akong nanonood ng air crash investigation documentaries kasi marami akong natututunan doon. Sobrang naa-amaze ako sa mga documentaries about airplanes,” he narrates, beaming.
Steve narrates that it was after finishing his Masters in Communication in 2017 that he found himself questioning what his latest accomplishment meant.
“Ano nga ba talaga ang gusto kong mangyari sa buhay? And then when I had the chance na makapagbasa ng Airbus 320 manual from a friend, alam ko na kung ano ang gagawin ko. That was the time I started planning,” he says.
A self-confessed meticulous planner, Steve prepared a huge cartolina and worked on his grand “How to Become an Airline Pilot” plans.
“I listed everything there: how much money I have, where do I get the funding, how much will I get from retirement, sinong taong uutangan ko, from this month to this period kaya how much money will I get…” Steve begins, determination evident in his eyes.
“Tapos nilista ko lahat ng flight training organizations na papasukan ko…para meron akong options. Pinuntahan ko isa-isa, I inquired and then pinlano ko footprint ng training ko. And every single day, nililista ko ‘yun sa desk calendar ko. Pati flights ko, number of hours — it’s all there. I still keep it to remind me of how difficult the journey was and how I should treasure it,” he continues.
It was a fervent dream that required him to give his all and sacrifice some comforts and responsibilities. Becoming a pilot may have been a personal dream but the support and confidence he received from family and friends inspired him to power through it. A friend went as far as lending him a huge amount of money to encourage him. After dutifully informing and explaining matters to his parents, they eventually trusted and supported their son’s decision.
“Whenever I make life-changing decisions like shifting careers, I would always call my mom or my dad and consult them. Sabi ko sa kanila, medyo mapuputol lang ‘yung allowance for them and that I have to save up for flight training. May tiwala naman sila na kakayanin kong matapos. Sinabi naman nila na, ‘Steve, whatever you do, we think na you’re passionate about it so you wouldn’t allow yourself to fail,’” Steve recalls fondly.
When Steve left GMA to actively pursue his dream of becoming a pilot, he did part-time work as consultant for the Communications Division of the DoTr (Department of Transportation) to make ends meet. Sometimes after flying, he would switch to his role as consultant, reviewing press releases, monitoring social media posts and preparing speeches. He would also host events and teach on the side for extra income.
“My 18 months of training were also 18 months of doing side jobs so that I would get to pay the bills,” he sums it up.
Asked how he felt when he was finally able to fly a plane on his own, exhilaration wasn’t the word he used to describe it.
“It’s a humbling experience for me because I know that not everyone who had this childhood dream would be able to have this opportunity. It’s humbling to be given the chance and to have a certain kind of perspective from up there when you’re flying. Iba pala ang ganda ng Hundred Islands, Baler o Ilocos when seen from above. I felt so blessed to see it. It made me appreciate life even more and I’m thankful,” he smiles.
He was able to land a job as a pilot and started his aviation career with Cebu Pacific in October 2019.
“Ang ganda nang pasok ng taon ko,” Steve says, referring to his release in the line as First Officer in January 2020.
“Kapag released ka na sa linya as First Officer, legit ka na. You can fly the plane. Kumbaga, tapos na ang training period mo. Blood, sweat and tears ‘yung training kasi buhay na ng mga tao ang hawak mo,” he explains.
“Madami rin akong napuntahan before the lockdown like Vietnam, Jakarta (Indonesia), Fukuoka (Japan) and local destinations. I really found a deeper sense of fulfillment. There’s that unexplainable kilig kapag nakakapag-takeoff and landing ka and ang sarap ng feeling,” he recalls his promising beginning.
Plot Twists and Detours
Imagine all of that taken away in an instant.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the aviation and tourism industry, Steve was let go and became one of the many employees laid off by the airline company.
He initially thought the pandemic situation was going to be a momentary setback, and that things will get back to normal by April. He even prepared for the required sixth month training and exams – only to be officially notified of his retrenchment in July.
“It was really painful when I lost my job because it was the fruit of my investment — financial and emotional — ibinuhos ko lahat doon,” he says.
“There will be days na sobrang iiyak ka. Ako, naranasan ko yun eh when I missed flying so much. I live near the airport and I would see planes taking off and landing. It was so difficult,” he adds, displaying vulnerability, despite his usual cheerful countenance.
The following month, Steve had to face another heartbreaking news and lost his dad Sancho to cardiogenic shock (not COVID-related), just when he was still trying to pick up the pieces. The experience, he says, was “excruciatingly painful.”
In his YouTube tribute post, he described his dad as an integral part of his takeoff journey.
“My dad and I would always discuss things about career and life. Marami kaming pagkakaiba ng dad ko pero ngayon, I realized that I am my father’s son. Tingin ko, kung gaano man ako ka-organized o kasipag, nakuha ko ‘yun sa kanya,” he remarks, adding that his dad was an architect but was also so good at doing the laundry, he was the one who took great care of Steve’s spotless pilot uniform.
His father Sancho was also very much a part of Steve’s future: he planned to take him inside a real cockpit and would have been elated at a chance to pilot a flight with his dad onboard. It’s another one of Steve’s life plans that he would have to painfully give up and surrender to God.
“Sabi ko kay Lord, baka pwedeng quota na po ako for 2020?” he says in jest, in an attempt to lighten up the mood.
For a planner like Steve, his recent experiences taught him a massive lesson in life.
“You can’t really plan your future. Prior to COVID, you can at least see yourself in two to three years’ time. But now you give yourself a timeline of about a month because things may change the next month or the next few days,” he humbly admits.
Steve describes his recent months as a rollercoaster ride with all of its dizzying highs and lows. Still, he remains in fighting form and continues to persevere through it all.
“Bata pa lang ako, I was (already) trained to channel everything and look at things as glass half full,” he declares.
Steve: “It’s a very trying time for some of our colleagues in the media. The things we learned before sa coverage are the same things that will make us stronger. May mga bagay na pwedeng paghugutan from our previous interviews and experiences in the field which would be very helpful in our present situation. Believe that there will be an ending to this story and we look forward to more good stories in the coming days.”
Ever the consummate planner, Steve started updating his resume and farmed it out to his contacts when he started hearing rumors of downsizing at his previous work. He considered going back to journalism but was told the opportunities are tight at the moment.
“Thankful pa rin ako sa GMA. I signed a contract with the network last February to do documentaries habang lumilipad. That’s the original plan,” he shares, saying he still has a good relationship and maintains communication with his former network.
While looking for a job, he kept himself busy by launching his online meat business “TASTEEEVE” and vlogging channel on YouTube called “Take Off with Steeeve Dailisan.”
He maintains his online business until now, selling meat products such as German franks, embutido, pork barbecue and German corned beef (“Talagang tiyaga-tiyaga lang”). On the other hand, it took a certain amount of convincing from friends for him to launch a vlog channel.
“I wanted to focus on flying pa rin pero [during quarantine], wala na akong makausap sa condo since mag-isa lang ako. I started vlogging para may makausap and parang nakakatuwa naman. It’s more of a therapy and inspiring people,” he says.
“I’m looking at returning inside the cockpit, the flight deck. Whatever it takes to fly again,” he adds.
Thankfully in August, Air Asia hired him as its official spokesperson and public affairs manager – an ideal merging of his media and aviation experiences.
“It’s a culmination of everything. I know what information the media needs, what the requirements are, and I know how it is to be a reporter na may deadline na hinahabol. I also know the technical side of it — safety and all — as a pilot. At the same time, I now need to balance everything kasi alam ko rin ang feeling ng pasahero,” he states.
“It’s more of me being able to communicate at a time when it’s most needed —iyong tamang information, ‘yung empathy sa flying public on what they’re going through. I’m given the opportunity to keep them informed and of the things they need to know,” he continues.
More importantly, the job gives him the chance to fly again.
“When the opportunity with Air Asia was presented to me, it was a contract that I signed off on because I will still get to train with them as a pilot. Returning to flying is my number one motivation at the moment. It’s my happy place – ‘yung flight deck. I am due for recurrent training this November so I should be starting [with] flying school ulit this October,” he explains, adding that he is still trying to cope with the idea of not having been able to fly for months now.
Steve is also a pet parent and finds therapy & happiness with his two adorable dogs: A Yorkie named Fletcho (named after his Dad Sancho) and a Chihuahua he calls Coco.
Not one to be deterred by life’s curveballs and roadblocks, Steve, with his admirable tenacity and awe-inspiring good heart, is back on his feet again and armed with unexpected learnings.
“We were all caught off guard. Who would have thought na ganito pala magiging magnitude ng COVID? As a reporter, I thought I’ve seen the worst times. I never thought it would be this big and that I would be hit this hard,” he reflects, feeling incredulous.
“Whatever comes our way, we should always be ready to accept. To have an accepting heart is difficult because with the passing of my dad parang it’s still difficult…everything happened so fast…” he trails off and sighs.
“Always come up with a plan. As a pilot, you need to have an alternate airport, so that when something bad happens and you are unable to land on your destination, you would have somewhere else to land. Then you can at least plan again for another takeoff and go to that dream destination of yours. It’s difficult what I’m going through right now but everyday I wake up, I still thank God for the opportunity to go on with life and live it. As a planner, no amount of preparation could have prepared me for something like this. But I just pray for an accepting heart and a mind that is very enthusiastic to look forward to better days,” he concludes pensively.
As Steve pushes forward with life’s reroutes and detours, he intends to fight and win one day at a time. He also happily considers it a bonus if he inspires people along the way.
About the Writer
Grace C. Diez
Grace Diez started as an AM/FM radio traffic reporter and broadcast supervisor of Trapik.com before pursuing a 5-year career in advertising and a 9-year (and counting!) career in public relations. With 17 years of experience as a writer, her works have been published on People Asia, Metro.Style, ABS-CBN Lifestyle, Star Studio, Metro Magazine, Manila Bulletin, The Philippine Star, Working Mom, Chalk.PH, League Magazine, Sense & Style, Woman Today and Manila Standard with editors entrusting her with cover stories and CEO/celebrity profiling assignments. She loves IU, Taylor Swift, coffee, milk tea, Dr. Pepper and cookies.