Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Estremera: Old wounds

HOW would you feel as a parent if your 22-year-old daughter is being threatened on air by a broadcaster who brandishes guns while walking around the city and hanging out on hotel coffee shops?

He’d send me floating dead on Davao River, he would say.

That is what my parents had to go through in my first years as a journalist who has taken the fancy of a radio announcer who was not above threatening anyone who he regards as a hindrance to his grand design of things.

Like my colleagues who were serving the alternative press (Carol Arguillas, Serafin Ramos Jr., and later Carlos Isagani Zarate), I was covering the incidents and movements of the left, making me this radioman’s target because of his self-proclaimed leadership of the Alsa Masa (anti-communist) movement in Davao City in the 1980s.

Why Carol, Jun, and Kaloi were spared?

I don’t know. Maybe because I was small and didn’t have much clout and because my regular outfit then were a pair of short pants, t-shirt, and brightly colored sneakers.

I was bully bait.

Long after Alsa Masa became irrelevant, he was still at it maybe because his pride was hurt when my erstwhile publisher, Pidiong Damaso, stormed his radio station and told him to never, ever threaten his editor.

Or maybe because I never rose to his bait. I was very young then and didn’t know how to deal with situations like those and I didn’t want to add more to my parents’ worries.

May his soul rest in peace, and yes, that is said without sincerity.

That’s just the hypocrite me trying to sound human.

I survived, barely scratched. I wonder how that man whom President-elect Rodrigo Duterte referred to as the one most likely to have ordered the life of this radioman snuffed out felt; his father’s name desecrated and the family made a fool of on air.

Indeed, killing is never justified, but there are limits by which you can drive another person to rage strong enough to kill. I’m telling you now, this radioman has driven many to rage.

I should know, I grappled with my best friend to take away his gun and stop such a rage. Yes, I was a very brave spunky girl then. My best friend’s dead now, from cancer; 16 years ago.

Three years later, Jun Pala was killed. My best friend did not have to kill the man, someone else did it for him for what I’m sure is an entirely different but similar reason.

That is why I have remained silent all through these years when his name is mentioned among the journalists killed. I cringe. Bile rises up my mouth when someone refers to him as a journalist. I refuse to speak up as I know my deep-seated bias.

That was all in the past, until recently when President-elect Rodrigo Duterte brought his name up again as the issue of media killings was asked in one of his late night press conferences.

The Manila media went on a frenzy afterward, I remained silent still.

Those wounds run deep but the scars have all been hidden away, only the old hands will remember how ABS-CBN’s Tina Junsay and I were being kidded by our colleagues after Pala survived the second attempt on his life in April 2003.

We were being ribbed that the reason he survived was that Tina and I haven’t yet paid the gunman in full. We know it was a sick joke, but that’s how it is in the industry, sick or not, jokes are thrown around and it will be hypocritical of me if I say we didn’t laugh (just as journalists laughed when Duterte whistled). Of course we did. At least I did in private, not the way Pala laughed and taunted my best friend’s death on air, several times.

Hindsight always paints a different picture, the villains can even be turned into heroes, much like Ferdinand E. Marcos, much like Pala.

Again. Let. Me. Make. This. Very. Clear… I. Am. Not. Justifying. The. Killing. Of. Journalists. I am just recalling how it felt, how bile tastes, and how the taste remains. I am also speculating on where Duterte is coming from.

One thing I am sure of, I will not wish my experience on any of you.

“There are three kinds of journalists. The crusaders, the mouthpieces, and the extortionists. The third ones are the vultures,” Duterte said.
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