A provincial journalist’s anecdotes

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By Ramon Dacawi

Benchwarmer

Friday, March 7, 2014


LOUIE Camino, who moved on to that great newsroom in the sky February of 2005, helped me through some of my years as correspondent of People’s Journal. I owe him and Manong Alex Allan, who asked me to write for the paper. With them at the helm, my stories, however, insignificant, usually found print on the limited tabloid space.

It had nothing to do with the news value of my reports, or my writing competence. It had something to do with my editors’ patience in deciphering and remolding the reports, giving my mangled pieces form and sense for the reader (and me) to understand. It was more out of sensitivity to and belief in a struggling provincial reporter’s efforts to produce, however spotty his copies were.

It had something to do with what Louie wrote about newspapering when he joined the Philippine Daily Inquirer after a two-year stint in a Hongkong broadsheet:

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“It is being affected by the little lives of the little people who figure in insignificant” stories, and doing something to make those lives a little easier, a little more dignified.”

My stories were mostly far from earth-shaking, but Louie and Manong Alex dignified them with my byline or tagline.

Other senior and copy editors down there in imperial Manila were (and are) not as sensitive and kind to provincials like us. You spend days and funds to get a story first-hand, say the eradication of full-grown marijuana plants worth millions of pesos in the remotest nook of these Cordillera mountains.

In the hands of editors, the three-page scoop gets whittled down to the barest elements of a news brief.

Another story about a three-kilo MJ bust in Metro-Manila gets the headline, simply for the element of proximity to the editors’ desks.
I recall that time fellow provincial reporter Eliral Refuerzo joined The Manila Times when the late Fr. Conrado Balweg, then head of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army, was waylaid in Abra. Eli was out of Baguio and I had promised to back him up if needed. So I got the facts from then regional PC-INP commander, General Juanito Aquias, wrote the story and then called up the desk.

Brushing aside my explanation for the legwork, the deskman questioned my intrusion and asked whether I was trying to take over Eli’s post. I apologized and was about to hang up when he asked why on earth my dispatch was.

"Nothing much," I said. Fr. Balweg has just been ambushed. Eight of his commanders killed.”

“Hold on, I’ll get the story,” he said, quite frantically.
It was my turn. He listened patiently, apologizing as I pounded on his arrogance before he started pounding on his typewriter to transcribe my dictation.

The story made the headline with Eli’s byline. We would relish recalling that anecdote during evening sprees. It never occurred to me that I would later join The Manila Times.

A week after the July 16, 1990 killer-quake that hit Baguio and Northern Luzon, I called up Reuters to check whether I could still file photos and stories of the aftermath. The desk said two veteran photogs from the Singapore bureau were already dispatched to Baguio to cover.

A week after, the deskman called me in the middle of the night. “Do you have photos of that rescue of the two survivors entombed alive at the collapsed Hyatt Terraces Hotel?”

“Perhaps the two photogs who parachuted in from Singapore have,” I answered. “They had already left. Do you have the photos?,” he asked.

“Yes.” “Can you send them now?” I’m quite far from the bus station.” “Send it now; we’ll reimburse all your expenses.” “There’s no taxi here and it’s in the middle of the night.” “Can you hire a private car?” “No.

I’ll send the photos tomorrow.” “Well… okay, okay, but please be sure.”
Months into the rebuilding of a devastated city, Eric de Castro, the Baguio boy who rose to become Reuters chief photographer, called up. He asked me to cover U.S. Senator Richard Lugar who was to preside over a memorial rite before hotel rubble for those killed by the quake while attending a USAID-sponsored seminar.

Enterprise prompted me to ask a member of the senator’s party to hand over Eric the film roll. “Yeah, I know, I know what you mean,” he said.

Eric was waiting at the Manila airport when the senator’s plane landed.
“Sir, do you have something for me from Baguio?,” Eric asked my instant messenger. “Yeah, here’s it,” the messenger replied, fishing out the film roll from is coat pocket.

I later learned the instant delivery boy was Consul Butler of the US Embassy. (e-mail: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 08, 2014.

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