I WAS headed for Dumaguete City to be one of the judges in this year’s National Schools Press Conference when news about the shooting to death of lawyer and Ronda town vice mayor Jonnah John Ungab filtered through the radio monitor of the taxicab my wife and I were riding in. I checked for updates of the story online, especially on the SunStar website, while riding a bus from the Cebu South Bus Terminal to Dumaguete.
It was a big story. Ungab was the lawyer of suspected big-time drug peddler Kerwin Espinosa, son of the slain Albuera, Leyte mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. The older Espinosa was killed inside his detention cell by policemen in November 2016. Three months before that Rogelio Bato Jr., his legal counsel, was killed by still unidentified gunmen. Ungab himself said he had received death threats.
But I had to focus that time on the task at hand, which was the writing competition. With me in Dumaguete were fellow Cebu media people. We later linked up with the other judges from Dumaguete and Metro Manila for what turned out to be a taxing job. This is, after all, the “Olympics of Campus Journalism,” an annual gathering of the best campus journalists from 17 regions in the country. I was one of the three judges for the “Editorial Writing” competition.
I have been invited to judge and lecture on “Editorial Writing” for schools, division and even regional press conferences for many years now. I don’t usually turn down invitations to do so because I want to impart my knowledge of the writing craft to the younger ones. I learned writing on my own without the benefit of formal schooling since I was in first year high school. Those were years of visiting libraries and saving my bawon to buy books on writing.
This is what I have been telling the students. If you love your craft, you will always find ways to develop your skills, no matter what. They are even luckier than me now because there were no schools press conferences in those days. And our high school paper closed when I enrolled in the school. So what I did was write sentences, paragraphs and short articles on my own, then I did the critiquing myself. I would read some good works and try writing the same way.
Now, DepEd is doing the mentoring, which is laudable. I am sure thousands of those who are now professionals have benefited from this mentoring and inspiration-giving. Writing, after all, is an important skill to possess no matter what profession students will pursue when they get older. And it’s not only writing because the schools press conference includes other aspects of media work like broadcasting, cartooning and photojournalism.
That was my first time judging at the national level and the experience gave me a better perspective of this nationwide activity. I found out that what is happening at the lower levels is also reflected in the higher one, and this is the seeming downturn in the ability of elementary and high school students to write in English (I don’t see much of a problem with Filipino). It’s not only about grammar, but “grammar and composition,” a full subject in school in the old days.