Where’s your evidence?

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By Ramon Dacawi

Benchwarmer

Friday, March 14, 2014


THE beerhouse scene was like that in the song: Lonely table just for one. On top were several empty bottles of beer. The lone occupant, barely in his teens, wanted them displayed - as proof he was old and man enough to handle his drinks.

The bar owner, glancing furtively by the cash register, knew the empty bottles were evidence to the contrary. Her young customer was already red-cheeked and glassy eyed, his movement sluggish, as when he emptied his last order, then raised a finger to the waitress.

One more, he motioned to the server.

She shook her head and then handed him the tab. No more drinking as you’re already under the influence. The youth also shook his head, hardly glancing at the bill. He then rose and ambled his way to a row of cooking pots.

He lifted the lid of one of the pots. Hot steam wafted, releasing the distinct aroma of newly cooked dish into the air. The smell was undeniably of “pinapaitan”, that popular mixture of goat innards and the green liquid from grass chewed by the ruminant.

With one hand still holding the lid, the boy used the other to dig into his pocket for a match box. He then raised the match box over the pot and pushed the drawer and released the content.

The owner of the place confronted the kid. She demanded payment for the beer and the now spoiled greenish stew. The boy refused. The owner called the police who, with dispatch, hauled the boy and the stew pot into the investigation division of what was then called Baguio’s Finest.

Inside the police station, a veteran investigator handled the case. He asked the boy his name and typed it out,. He asked his address, school and so forth and typed these out. An officer worth his salt, the officer-on-case then opened the pot and ladled out what the boy had added earlier from his match box.

It was a small snake, once alive but scalded and cooked to death when it dropped into the steaming pot.
“Is it true that you added this to the pinapaitan?,” he asked the boy, shoving towards him the tiny reptile on the ladle.
The boy looked at the snake, then swiftly picked it and shoved it into his mouth. Before the officer could react, the kid had gobbled up the whole thing.

The suspect then faced the officer, ready with his own questions: “Mr. police officer, what’s the charge? Where’s your evidence?”

While writing the story for dispatch to a national paper, I could almost see the police officer suppressing the urge to lift the typewriter and hurling it to the smart aleck. But I was sure he wouldn’t do such nasty thing. My years covering the police beat convinced me he was a most patient investigator.

He had a good memory of the numerous cases being handled by the investigation division, always quick in retrieving the right evidence from the packed store room, even if these were asked on the day of a court hearing.
This time however, he knew evidence retrieval wasn’t that easy, given the oddity of the case and the perishable nature of things swallowed and digested. It was different from gold bits enterprising miners would swallow or push up their lower body hole to evade detection and arrest. All the investigator had to do in such a case would be to wait for a suspect to expunge the high-grade.

The boy’s story (not necessarily the way it was written) proved high-grade in the judgment of a national daily. It merited front-page treatment the follow day. I bought two copies and clipped my story. Falling short of framing it, I was on cloud nine, like any young reporter hitting the front page for the first time would be.

It’s a feeling some older journalists then couldn’t transcend or outgrow. They would move around with the issue containing their dispatches or photos to show younger reporters the evidence of their professional competence.

I would share the story to elementary and high school writers whenever they would get bored of my lecture in basic journalism. More than the laughter it triggers, the anecdote serves to remind them – and me – about responsible journalism.

There was no need to identify the boy, if only to save him – and the writer – from ridicule that might lead him to drop out of school. (e-mail: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 15, 2014.

Opinion

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