Keeping an eye on the daily weather forecast has never been more important in the Philippines than it is today, what with environmental issues wreaking havoc on the previously simple and more predictable dual season of dry and wet. It has thus become a habit for a greater number of Filipinos to tune in to the radio, click on the television, or have a quick Internet search on what to expect for the day, as opposed to the former practice of checking weather reports only when storms are brewing.
In effect, the job of a meteorologist has become all the more pronounced today, especially among a generation that is hardly ever satisfied to know what to expect, but also demands to understand why a certain situation is about to happen.
Thus explains the popularity of one Nathaniel Cruz, more commonly known to millions of Filipinos as “Mang Tani”— GMA Network’s resident meteorologist. His obvious expertise in the field, coupled with his knack for translating complicated jargons into layman’s terms, and a very approachable personality quickly made him the go-to guy of weather-conscious citizens across the islands.
For those unaware, before Cruz became the face of weather reporting in recent years, he worked as the official spokesperson of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), which is the government’s official weather bureau.
Surprisingly, he confessed to The Sunday Times Magazine in this one-on-one interview that he never had any plans of going into meteorology. In fact, Cruz graduated from Agricultural Engineering at Araneta University in 1982.
“It was never my dream to become a weatherman, I had no interest nor any idea of doing that. What happened was that when I graduated, I needed to look for a job immediately so I could help my parents send my three other siblings to school. I am the second to the eldest in my family,” Cruz recalled.
“My father used to sell products to sari-sari stores and out of the blue one day, he met a driver of a boss in Pagasa. They got to talking and my father mentioned along the way that I was looking for a job. The man told my father to tell me to go to their office and try my luck,” he continued.
That was not that, though. According to Cruz, he had to go through an entire year of training at the bureau before he could even work for them.
“It was never easy for me because imagine—I had just graduated from college but I had to take lessons again to study science-based subjects and higher math subjects like Integral and Differential Calculus? And while I trained, I took on sideline jobs because like I said, my family needed me to work.”
All the same, the industrious—and intelligent—young Tani passed training and officially became a meteorologist in 1983. Besides forecasting weather he additionally worked in hydrology and climatology department of Pagasa for the next 27 years.
On to Australia
Cruz learned to be challenged by his somewhat accidental profession, and in fact, even went to gain experience as a meteorologist in Australia.
“In 2007, we had an Australian partner who headed a project between Bureau of Meteorology and Pagasa. He was from Darwin—one of the remotest cities in Australia, and knowing that place, very few people actually work there.
“This Australian and I became friends as he went on with the partnership project, and one day he asked me ‘Tani, why don’t you apply at our bureau of meteorology? We lack forecasters and we’d be happy to welcome foreigners to help us out’.”
Eager to give his family a better life, Cruz went to the Land Down Under in 2010. He flourished there for two whole years until an unfortunate incident took place.
“My long term plan really was to live in Australia for good and migrate with my family there,” he admitted. “But they didn’t want to—especially our children, because they didn’t’ want to leave their lives here.”
As such, it was Cruz’ wife Gloria who decided to visit him in Darwin
“She was staying with me for two weeks but then one day, she suddenly fell into a coma due to brain tumor. I wasn’t able to wake her up, until my children had to fly to Australia themselves because the doctors were saying my wife did not have much of a chance to live.”
Miracles and blessings
Perhaps with love and prayers, miracles do happen, because Cruz did not give up on his wife who stayed in a coma for four months, and suddenly woke up.
“The doctors were shocked because they were already suggesting to cut off her life support when my wife woke up. She had a hard time speaking, walking and writing in the beginning but she patiently submitted to months of rehab until she had control of her movements again and decided to go home.”
Happy to have his wife back, Cruz would visit her in Manila as often as he could, which sometimes meant flying back and forth Darwin every month.
“At some point, it was no longer practical to keep my job in Australia since my work was getting affected with all the traveling and my salary was all going to airline tickets,” he recalled. That was when we decided I should come home for good.”
Worried over a job as he started anew in the Philippines, he received a major blessing after featuring Cruz’ miracle, GMA Network offered him a post to be their weatherman.
“My wife had been asking me what I’d do when I came home because she knew I didn’t want to go back to Pagasa. I told her I’d probably just take care of our land in Pangasinan and do business there.”
“But thankfully, GMA came as a blessing in my life and here I am still today. They heard the news about my wife and that I came back home to stay with her. Luckily, they wanted to have an expert for weather reports so they asked me if I could do it for them,” he explained.
Becoming ‘Mang Tani’
For four years now working as an on-cam talent, albeit a full-fledged meteorologist, Cruz still has a hard time seeing himself as the celebrity people consider him to be. After all, he is very visible in such popular programs as “Unang Hirit” and “24 Oras,” and is even heard over dZBB where he has a show entitled, “I M Ready sa Dobol B!”
“When I was in Pagasa as an official spokesperson, of course people saw me and heard me in media interviews about the weather. But never did I imagine that I’d be in front of the camera doing this every single day,” he chuckled.
“Now I even have a month-old radio program. I remember a time when I’d go to a radio station, sit there and wait until my interview was on and switch on my microphone. But these days, I’m the one who manages all the buttons required for my very own show!
“The first time I did that, my hands were shaking just like I did during my first time in front of the camera, working for GMA. When Mang Mike [Enriquez] introduced me like, ‘We have a weather expert here coming from Australia,’ my knees were shaking. Of course, I knew that even if I only had the camera in front of me, I was talking in front of millions of people! It wasn’t as nerve-racking representing Pagasa as a spokesperson.”
Asked what got him through and has kept him on television as the day’s top weatherman, Cruz said cited a combination of hard work and “the right kind of credibility.”
“I just kept on working hard in delivering the information to the public the best I can, while being honest enough to say that not all my forecast will always be exact because parts of my report also comes from Pagasa, and simply because weather always changes. I guess what people appreciate in my report is how I’m able to translate the technical or complex parts of the weather in words they can clearly understand.”
Nowadays, it is common for Cruz to hear forecasters tell him they want to be just like him. He is flattered every time but makes it a point to tell them who his teacher was.
“Before me, there was a very popular meteorologist who went on cam very often—the late Mang Amado Pineda. He was my boss when I first came to Pagasa. He told me, ‘You know Tani, I think you will be the one to replace me if I retire,’ and it came true.”
He quickly added, “But to become Mang Amado or Mang Tani doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process and that’s what I tell the young people who want to become forecasters now. And you can’t just want to be in front of the camera—you have to become passionate about the science first of all.”
Known as the expert on weather reporting because of the fact that he is a meteorologist, there are those who often compare Cruz to ABS-CBN’s weatherman Kim Atienza who is considered an expert on trivia and general knowledge. Some even go as far as firing up a rivalry between them, which GMA’s weatherman would rather not see happen.
“I am all praises for Kim because when he was starting, I was in Pagasa. He went there directly to speak to me and asked me if I could teach him. What is good about him is that he makes an effort to know what he is doing and acknowledges where his forecasts are from every time,” Cruz shared.
“When I started working for GMA, he was the first to tweet and greet me to send his congratulations. He said, ‘Congrats Mang Tani, ang ekspertong totoo,” so there has never been a rivalry. He knows that I’m a meteorologist and he accepts that.”
According to Cruz, while he is grateful for his father’s chance encounter with the driver of the Pagasa executive way back when, his almost 30-decade employment in the weather bureau, and experience in Darwin, Australia, he finds his work as a weatherman most fulfilling today.
“When I was in Pagasa, almost everyday I had meetings. I also did briefings with the presidents—for Presidents Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo. I even had to do lectures and seminars. But here, on television and radio, what happens is that I get to give people the information they need straight to them and that’s what’s fulfilling about this job,” he said.
“I remember that when took the entrance exam in Pagasa, there was an essay asking why did I want to become a meteorologist. I didn’t even know the definition of meteorology back then! So I just wrote, ‘I love meteors, I love the stars.’ It was good thing they allowed me to go into training anyway. But looking back, everything happened for a reason because as my life truly changed, I know this is where I’m meant to be. Serving the Filipino people directly as I can,” he ended.