"IT IS magical."

That was how Department of Education Undersecretary Vilma L. Labrador described the 69th National Schools Press Conference hosted by Tagum City, Davao del Norte in Davao Region in her closing message on February 25, 2010.

It was the unified effort of all concerned that paved the way for what could have been the one of the best-organized, and excellently hosted gathering of the country's best and brightest budding journalists.

Initial preparation

It should be, because the groundwork took almost a year.

Upon knowing of the possibility that Davao Region will be hosting this year's NSPC, Regional Director Susana Teresa B. Estigoy in May 2009 gathered the chiefs of the elementary and secondary divisions together with their respective campus journalism coordinators to start planning.

Her being a former regional campus journalism coordinator and experience in hosting an NSPC while she was still schools division superintendent of South Cotabato helped much in identifying the committees to be created.

The working groups were set in motion soon after the letter of acceptance was signed by DepEd Secretary Jesli A. Lapus of Tagum's bid as submitted by Tagum City Mayor Rey T. Uy with the concurrence of Governor Rodolfo P. Del Rosario of Davao del Norte.

Thus a series of National and Regional Technical Working Group meetings were held. Dr. Lolita M. Andrada and Dr. Yolanda S. Quijano, Bureau Director of the Secondary and Elementary education respectively and the chair and co-chair of this year's NSPC were in the region to preside during those meetings.

The homestretch

It was the so-called homestretch of the preparation. Everything was being ironed out so as to give the best and only the best to the delegates. The plans included even the accommodations of the extra participants, mostly parents and relatives of delegates and DepEd officials who were eager to reach Davao Region.

But as always is the case especially among those who know nothing of and have never been to Mindanao, parents of some children were urging the DepEd to move the venue to some "safer" place outside Mindanao. The rumblings became worse in November 2009 after the Ampatuan massacre.

One parent group even tried to write to the Secretary of Education to request for the transfer to anywhere in Luzon and Visayas.

But city and provincial officials of Tagum and Davao del Norte allayed these unfounded fears.

The City Government of Tagum in a meeting presided by Vice Mayor Allan L. Rellon during the City's Peace and Order Council (CPOC) meeting on January 8, 2010 agreed that they would ensure security measures will not be taken lightly.

What followed was a press release in local dailies and the DepEd Central Office official website based in Pasig City, emphasizing Tagum City's reputation as a peaceful and child-friendly city as conferred by the Office of the President and later recognized again by the DILG Regional Office 11 under Director Quirino M. Libunao.

DepEd Tagum City Division Superintendent Nenita Lumaad also asked the AFP and PNP to make a security statement to ensure the safety of the public particularly the delegates on the upcoming nationwide event.

Supporting her were her two campus journalism coordinators, Mrs. Mayumi M. Pinzon and Mrs. Janette G. Veloso.

Thus, Tagum Chief of Police PCI Guisseppe Geralde assured that the city is indeed the safest place to live while Army Captain Eddie Valde of 1003rd Brigade also assured the Council that their Battalion has continuously monitored the areas for the students' guided tour in the eco-tourism park of Davao del Norte. Army Reservists from 1102 RCDG Command Center have also expressed their commitment in rendering their services to protect the reputation of Davao Province as a peaceful community.

Mayor Uy established five Police sub-stations constructed in strategic places in the entry and exit points of the city and also purchased a couple of bomb sniffing dogs under the care of Tagum's Swat Team. In guarding terminal areas, monitoring devices like CCTV cameras have been installed all over the transport vicinity.

During the final NTWG meeting on January 12-13, NSPC Chair Andrada assured the City of Tagum and the DepEd officials of DepEd-Davao Region that indeed, NSPC 2010 would be in Tagum City.

Opening program

Undersecretary Bacani set the tone for the competitions that were participated in by 3,787 student journalists and school paper advisers during the Opening Ceremonies at the New City Hall Open Arena along JV Ayala Avenue in the evening of February 22. Program hosts were Jose Aquino, Dr. Christine C. Bagacay with Louie Bryan Lapat and Krista Porlares as segment hosts.

Giving their messages too were BSE Bureau Director, Dr. Lolita M. Andrada, NSPC 2010 Overall Chairman; Tagum City Mayor Uy; Davao del Norte Governor del Rosario; and 1st District Congressman Arrel R. Olaño, and Senator Loren Legarda.

The Tagum City National High School Dance Theater Guild and the La Filipina National High School Jazz Chanters, the Grand Champion of last years' National English Jazz Chants Festival pepped up the crowd for the Keynote Speaker.

Conference proper started with a Press Conference with the Usec Bacani at TCNHS Audio-Visual Room followed by a mass at the Parish of Christ the Eucharistic King Cathedral and then the Grand Parade from the Rotary Park that ended with a fireworks display sponsored by the City Tourism Council and the Council of Women, accompanied by the Division Teachers' Choir. A Governor's Night for the guests and Deped officials and Welcome Socials and Fellowship for all the delegates followed.

New features of NSPC 2010

In line with the so-called "Journalism 2.0", or web-based journalism, the NSPC Publicity Committee, headed by Dr. Christine Bagacay, launched the official online websites of this year's NSPC with the help of this writer, Tagum City blogger Louie Bryan Lapat, Samuelle Marionne Sanchez, and students from Tagum City National High School and Tagum City National Comprehensive High School.

In addition to the Facebook, Twitter and Blogger websites of this year's NSPC in Tagum City, it was also the first time for NSPC to have its own website, sponsored by social networking website Multiply (http://nspc2010.multiply.com), and a Posterous account for live blogging, (www.nspc2010.posterous.com).

Through these interactive sites, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) was harnessed to provide relevant information to all delegates. The websites now hosts memorabilias, from articles and photos from the participants themselves to comments aside from the official statements and stories.

Even the evaluation was made online, a porposal welcomed by the National Technical Working Group (NTWG) headed by Dr. Ma. Elsie Esmer and her counterpart in the Division Office, Mrs. Antonia Bugna and Ronald Maata, Tagum City ICT and MIS Coordinator. Random surveys were done on accommodation, food, water supply and other concerns to address the concerns of each participating regions.

(The IT components of the NSPC were pet projects of this writer. – The editors).

This year also carried on last year's new contest, the online writing sponsored by Philippine Online Chronicle (POC).

Competition proper

The contests in the individual categories both in English and Filipino were conducted in Assumpta School of Tagum and St. Mary's College for elementary and secondary levels on February 23-24.

Region 3 (Central Luzon) emerged as the Over-all Champion in both elementary and secondary level. DepEd-Davao Region, the host region improved with a third runner-up finish, when it wasn't even in the top seven before. It was also first runner-up in combined individual contests in both English and Filipino. Its elementary counterpart was in the top seven.

Ray Emmaneds Pamulino of La Filipina NHS trained by Mary Jane M. Mejorada won first place during the NSPC Talent Search, secondary level, in the competition for non-contestants set up by the national organization of paper advisers in elementary and secondary level.

The following are the individual winners: (Secondary Level) Mary Jill Ira Banta – Davao City NHS, 1st in Newswriting (F); Quennie Sandra Nonesa – Tagum City NHS, 2nd in Newswriting (F); John Kevin Amador – Carmen NHS, 1st in Sports Writing (F); Rafdi Saniel – Holy Cross of Kiblawan, 6th in Feature Writing (E); Junessa Bianca Libarnes – Daniel R. Aguinaldo NHS, 7th in Feature Writing (E), April Ann Sillada – Sta. Ana NHS, 2nd in Newswriting (E); Anlorenze Mae Conde – Tagum City NHS, 3rd in Newswriting (E); Nelson Lorenzo Cuevas – Emar Learning Center, 6th in Sportswriting (E) and Janine C. Castro – Daniel R. Aguinaldo NHS, 5th in Copyreading and Headline Writing.

In the elementary level, these are the winners in the individual writing contests: Kristine Therese Catbagan – IHMA, 2nd in Editorial Writing (E), Camille Lauren Go – Magugpo Pilot CES, 6th in Photojournalism (E), Kim Joseph Malicse – Marcos Estoque ES, 4th in Sports Writing (F), Joe Faith Bernardino – Sta. Cruz CES, 5th in Newswriting (F), Sheila Mae Castro – Carmen CES, 5th in Feature Writing (F), Roselle Mae Silawan – Anonang ES, 5th in Editorial Writing (F) and Kevin John Morales – San Vicente ES, 7th in Sports Writing.

In Scriptwriting and Radio Broadcasting, the secondary level got 3rd place in Infomercial, while in the elementary level, they won 2nd place in Infomercial and 3rd place in Best anchor, respectively.

Secondary Education Chief Luzminda O. Onor attributed the region's good showing to the preparations made.

"Being the host region made us more determined to fare well in the contests. We cannot afford to be complacent. It is good that our writers with the help of their advisers delivered," Dr. Onor said.