Varona was born in Manila, Philippines and attended the University of the Philippines in Quezon City to study journalism. She began her career as a reporter at the Visayan Times, a local newspaper in Bacolod City before moving to the national dailies in Manila. As investigative news chief of the Manila Times, she directed a number of project that won awards including a series on Filipino children suffering from tuberculosis and telecommunication firms ignoring consumers’ problems. She won the country's top prize for investigative journalism in 2007 and has been a consistent finalist for explanatory and investigative reports. The former chair of the National Union of Journalist of the Philippines was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University in 2005-2006.