AT THE 1996 “Palarong Pambansa” in Soccsksargen (South Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat-Sarangani-General Santos), a radio reporter positioned himself after the finish line, waiting to interview the winner in an ongoing long-distance race on the track.

The particular event skips me now but I’m sure it was grueling enough as all the runners – from first to last – needed to catch their breath after crossing the finish line. Precisely that’s the reason why I remember it. It had something to do with the human need to catch one’s breath at the end of a lung-busting, tiresome ordeal.

The winner had just completed his final sprint and was sitting on his lane box, trying to restore his normal breathing. Before he could do so, the reporter was beside him, asking him his name and shoving his mike towards the athlete’s mouth.

Instead of a name, the mike caught the gasping, the deep heaving of the athlete who couldn’t pronounce his name, which got in the way of his need to breathe.

“Pare, antayin mo munang makahinga ‘sya bago mo interbyuhin, para maintindihan mo ang sagot (Bro, give him time to breathe before you interview him so you can understand the answer),” I told the reporter. “Iskup mo pa rin ‘yan dahil live ang report mo; kami bukas pa lalabas sa dyaryo (Make it a scoop because it's a live report, our report comes out in the paper tomorrow).”

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One of the most intrusive question I ever heard was posed by a radio reporter inside a funeral home here. We met inside the parlor while following up details of a family tragedy.

Early that morning, a security guard had just finished doing the graveyard shift and had gone home to rest. He placed his .38 caliber revolver on top of an empty drum, perhaps thinking it was safe from his three-year old son, who was too short to reach for it.

He was wrong. Somehow, the toddler’s clumsy hand tagged the revolver which fell to the ground. The impact triggered an explosion, and the boy was fatally hit in the abdomen.

Inside the funeraria, the reporter, on a live report, asked the security guard the most painful, uncaring question I ever heard:

“Ania ti riknam kadi a kas tatang tatta ta nadisgrasya ti paltog mo ‘toy ubing mo? (How do you feel now as a father now that your gun accidentally hit your son?)

True enough, the poor security guard couldn’t answer. He just wailed, “Anak kooooooooooo (My son)!”.

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The cultural dimension of saving lives during emergencies is only beginning to be understood and appreciated now. Sensitivity for the well-being of those who rescued and retrieved victims in that tragic bus accident along Naguilian Road in 2010 prompted a cleansing ritual offered by Punong Barangay Ferdy Bayasen of Guisad Central. The traditional prayer also for the members of the media who covered the tragedy.

Retired Anglican priest, Fr. Francis Daoey presided over the ritual. In a return of a native to the native, Fr. Francis blended Christian and traditional prayers in asking the Almighty to keep the rescuers and the reporters out of harm’s way so they could keep the spirit of volunteerism and heroism alive.

At the Guisad dap-ay, Paeng Valencia of 911 told me he had a bout of fever after the teams had accounted all the victims and their valuables. The same feeling descended on him immediately after a previous operation.

“I told Manong John (Ullibac, a fire officer) I needed him to do a cleansing ritual and I felt so relieved when he did,” Paeng said.

Over 17 years ago, the cleansing ritual was what an Ifugao youth needed. He had just attended to the injured and the dying among passengers of another bus that plunged into a ravine in Banangan, along Naguilian Road, near where the Eso-Nice unit also hurtled into recently. A native of Banaue, the boy, was living in a shanty beside the accident site.

Fellow newsman Nathan Alcantara then told me the boy, who was the first to do rescue work, was losing his grip on reality. “Masapul nan sa ti kaugalian nga lualo,” Nathan said.

With the late police officer Teofilo Alinos, a culture-bound Ibaloi, Nathan and I looked for an Ifugao “mumbaki” who, by then, was already a rarity hereabouts. The native priest was reluctant to do the ritual, unbelieving we were that serious until we repeatedly swore we were.

To our relief, he said all he needed were a bottle of “bayah” (rice wine) and a pair of native chickens. We wanted to make sure and asked him if there was anything else he needed. That’s all, he assured us.

So we went to Banangan. A week later, Nathan told me the young rescuer was back in orbit.

(e-mail:mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments).