His name is George

Ever since I started covering Camp Crame, George “Geo” Evardo of Angel Radyo has been a fixture in the press office. Today, he will be a fixture no more. He passed away today, on his birthday.

Geo was a simple man. He wore his Bohol roots on his sleeve. He came to work in whatever he chose to wear, disregarding everyone else’s opinions. He didn’t smoke and had the frequent drink during press corps parties. Ironically, he was a fitness freak and I remember once we hit the gym and sauna, and had a good time.

He was an amiable chap and got along with basically every reporter. Yes he was shy, but once you get to know him, he could be talkative.

I will always miss his kakulitan, his deadpan take on the latest news done strictly for a laugh. His off-center questions during TSIP forums to PNP officials which make you wonder if he is half serious or half joking. But most of time, he would ask the most pointed questions during press cons. Yes he was a simple man, but he was never simplistic about the things around him.

Lately, I sensed he was carrying some kind of burden, but I never knew what this was. My best guess was either work or family. After work, I sensed he just wanted some company, to forget probably the burdens in his life. He accompanied me once in Greenhills to have my cellphone repaired. Maybe he just wanted to be around friends more. He valued friends and was not at all hot tempered. He wished no harm to anyone.

I remember our talks about journalism, and what makes a good reporter. He had simple but strong views about these things that did not at all border on naivete, thank God for that. They were simple but incisive views. He once chided me for being not as good as the other Inquirer reporters who covered Crame in the past. But I just laughed this off. Kantyaw lang nya yun. Lambing siguro. But after a scoop comes out, he would meander to my end of the office and say “Naka scoop na naman Inquirer.”

One time, we talked about his native Bohol and he talked about it with such passion. To him, it was the most beautiful place in the world, and I was awed. He talked about the rolling hills, the simple life there, and the beautiful beaches. Better than Boracay 10 times over, he said. I made a promise to him that I would visit Bohol one of these days, and he promised he would entertain me. Its now a promise he can no longer keep.

Most of all, I remember his rich baritone and I was mildly shocked to hear him sing during our parties. It was a deep but melodious baritone, the kind that with the right song, could touch your heart, especially when he sung Rico J. Puno’s “May Bukas Pa.” I never knew that song tug at your heart till I heard Geo sing it once.

That’s just the way life is I suppose. May namamatay, may naiiwan. Bakit pa kasi yung mababait pa ang nauuna.

I can picture Geo in the afterlife telling me the last three lines of Rico J’s song when times get rough for me. “Ang iyong pagdaramdam/ Idalangin mo sa Maykapal/ Na sa puso mo ay mawala nang lubusan.”

So here’s a toast Geo. You are free of your worries now. You are now really an angel.

May Bukas Pa – Rico J. Puno

Huwag damdamin ang kasawian
May bukas pa sa iyong buhay
Sisikat din ang iyong araw
Ang landas mo ay mag-iilaw

Sa daigdig ang buhay ay ganyan
Mayroong ligaya at lumbay
Maghintay at may nakalaang bukas

May bukas pa sa iyong buhay
Tutulungan ka ng Diyos na may lalang
Ang iyong pagdaramdam
Idalangin mo sa Maykapal
Na sa puso mo ay mawala nang lubusan

Sa daigdig ang buhay ay ganyan
Mayroong ligaya at lumbay
Maghintay at may nakalaang bukas

May bukas pa sa iyong buhay
Tutulungan ka ng Diyos na may lalang
Ang iyong pagdaramdam
Idalangin mo sa Maykapal
Na sa puso mo ay mawala nang lubusan

Ang iyong pagdaramdam
Idalangin mo sa Maykapal
Na sa puso mo ay mawala nang lubusan

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Back to school

As of the latest reports, some 21 million students returned to school yesterday. I’m sure the number covers the public school system. But I have no idea what the stats are for the private school system and the higher education sector and whether the numbers here are already included in the grand total

News coverage on the opening has been heavy with the usual problems like lack of teachers, principals and classrooms. But it seems that the old problems are still there. Worse, it seems the Department of Education has done anything to take care of these gaps, which is why the old problems persist.

What I found pointless was TV networks going on a spree with stories of politicians giving away free bags, uniforms, books to students.

It reminded me of the lessons I learned covering the education department, primary of which is that giving freebies will not solve the problems of the country’s educational system. Dole-outs are welcomed but what is important is to make sure students stay in the classrooms, more classrooms and teachers are provided, and more effort is given to making the children excel.

Of course, we are all familiar with the success of certain schools in the Visayas region which have topped national achievement tests year-in and year-out. Their secret being solid support from parents, the communities and other stakeholders in the education of the students.

If a lowly far-off school in the Leyte province can do it, why can’t a school in Quezon City or Makati?

I also watched in horror as the Quezon City government closed down a school in favor of a gym, or something like that. It goes to show where the priorities of local governments are in terms of the education of their constituents. But anyway, construction time is here again since the elections are just around the corner, so we know why there is suddenly a construction-spree. In Quezon City for example, the sidewalk area of Timog is being overhauled. Go figure.

The reports on the increase of the number of years in basic education and the continued erroneous textbooks are good eye-openers on the sector. Surely, policymakers should be eyeing an increase in the number of years. The Philippines remains one of the few countries which have the least number of years for education. Its time for an upgrade. Any cost accrued would be beneficial in the end with students who are truly ready for high school and then college. No more, “little learning here, a little learning there,” as Juan Miguel Luz said.

As of erroneous textbooks, looks like the Deped has more to answer for this.

Here’s continuing to hope the education sector doesn’t land on the front pages and newscast only on the opening of the school year.

If I were in Manila Penn

If I were in Manila Penn, I would not have left the hotel. Not unless I had orders from the office or if I knew I would not come out of the whole thing alive.

The debate about the acts of media during the Manila Penn siege has sparked an interesting discussion on the role of media in a crisis situation. Just as media was being arrested in the wake of the police operation, my colleague ABS-CBN reporter George Carino interviewed me on my reaction to the arrests. I said something like it was wrong to arrest journalists because they were just there to do their jobs, that is, to inform the public. I also said the arrests would have sent a chilling effect to media in future similar situations.

After hearing the explanations of the PNP and counter explanations from media executives, and my apologies to officers of the PNP who count me as their friend, I am unconvinced that what I said during George’s interview was wrong.

Did the media have a right to be there and was it right for media to be there? The question seems so basic but I have heard average people ask it. The answer to both is yes. If media wasn’t there, who knows what could have happened? The State would have seen it fit to take shortcuts with persons and their rights, and no one would have been there to tell the world about it.

In a crisis situation, the primary concern of media is to stay for as long as possible, get the story and get it out. How will the truth come out if we leave? Are we to depend on government’s version of the story? As in the case of the Bicutan siege and the assassination of Ninoy, the truth as told by the government gets lost in a chain of truths, half-truths and lies. In the end, it is the call of the journalists, or his or her bosses, whether to stay or go. Then again, a reporter can still argue with his desk on this. I know I would have done that.

To be sure, survival is paramount. No story is worth the life of a reporter and no journalists wants to be caught in the middle of a firefight. I assure you, any media outfit or reporter who pulls out at the first crack of gunfire would be the fool.

Should media police its own ranks and come up with its own rules in a conflict? The only rule is to get the story, get it right and file it immediately.

It is the journalists and his community that should decide whether it should be in the thick of the action, or leave. If laws have been violated because media stayed, it is not for government to assume. Only the courts can decide that.

Unfortunately, public perception is against us. I’ve seen internet forums bashing the media for being hard-headed fools by staying in Manila Penn.

This really shows the basic problem of journalists in this country, that there is a misunderstanding, misappreciation and a snide devaluation of the role of media in Philippine democracy. This is fueled by the oftentimes abusive and corrupt behavior of some newsmen, from taking bribes to arguing with traffic enforcers and even sliding in front of queues. Mediamen have no right to demand special attention just because they are members of media. For the public to respect media, mediamen must act with utmost decorum, even in the most basic situations as a traffic violation.

Much self-assessment is needed not only of how the police and media acted in the Manila Peninsula situation. I am hoping media also reexamines itself, how it acts in a crisis situation and even when the deadlines are over.

But in the end, any negative fallout from the Manila Penn incident should not prevent media from doing its job, or else, democracy fails.

McNamara’s Fog

My fascination with the Vietnam War was probably borne out of my initial fascination with Watergate. To my mind, these two events defined American politics, and by extension the American psyche, in the later part of the 20th century. The influence of these two events to the US domestically can still be felt even today. Bob Woodward made a convincing argument for this in his book “Shadow,” where he studies the effect of Watergate to presidencies subsequent to Nixon.

I managed to dig up David Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest” from a Booksale branch but never got around to finishing it. So when I saw Errol Morris’ “Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamara” (2003) on a website, I jumped at a chance to view it. I had caught parts of the documentary on HBO but I never got around to watching the whole thing.

The documentary revolves around McNamara’s time as president of Ford before moving to the White House as Secretary of Defense under the Kennedy and Johnson administration. It uses as its main material an on-camera interview with McNamara himself, juxtaposed with images of the Vietnam War.

As an interview subject, McNamara likes to take charge of the discourse, moving in and out of different topics at his own pace. He is at times bewildering and touching, weaving in and out of the events of his life with the just the right amount of pride bordering on arrogance about his successes.

On his time with Ford, McNamara made no bones about leading the company into some success by pioneering safety devices in automobiles.

McNamara is chilling when it comes to the subject of war. “I think the human race needs to think about killing. How much evil must we do in order to do good.” On other times, he is dead-on about the deadly romance man has with war. “The indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations.”

He says that any honest military commander will admit he has made mistakes in the application of military power. “He’s killed people – unnecessarily. His own troops or other troops. Through mistakes, through errors of judgment.”

On some points, McNamara can be as cold as ice. In response to a question on the decision to conduct an deadly air raid on Tokyo during the Second World War, McNamara icily declares: “I was part of a mechanism that, in a sense, recommended it…(Colonel Curtis) LeMay said if we lost the war that we would have all been prosecuted as war criminals. And I think he’s right. He… and I’d say I… were behaving as war criminals… LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side has lost.”

The documentary starts to get interesting when McNamara starts discussing the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis. “In my seven years as Secretary, we came within a hair’s breadth of war with the Soviet Union on three different occasions! Twenty-four hours a day, three-hundred sixty-five days a year, for seven years as Secretary of Defense, I lived the Cold War! During the Kennedy Administration, they (the Russians) designed a one-hundred Megaton bomb! It was tested in the atmosphere. I remember this.”

He is empathic about the importance of his role in the Cabinet. He reveals his own tug of war with Johnson on the Vietnam War. He says it was wrong to go to Vietnam but he is unclear about his own role, his attitudes and feelings about Vietnam. He evades the question by saying there are things the American public does not know with regard to US relations with China and Russia.

Anyone looking for answers to what went wrong in the Vietnam War from McNamara might be thoroughly disappointed as I was.

Out of the view of the camera, a person presumably Morris himself asks McNamara why he didn’t speak out against the Vietnam War after he left the Johnson administration.

“I’m not going to say any more than I have. These are the kinds of questions that get me into trouble. You don’t know what I know about how inflammatory my words can appear. A lot of people misunderstand the war, misunderstand me. A lot of people think I’m a son of a bitch.”

In his twilight years, McNamara could have used the occasion of the film as a “tell-all” and come clean,th-fogofwaroster2.jpg but he has not. This is ironic given McNamara’s anti-war stance, his present work for development and his own feelings about the US in Iraq.

But McNamara can be accurate and clear sometimes, a probable product of a deep reflection of his experiences. In one dialogue, McNamara goes into the very question of what will make the US go to war, or stay out of war.

“What makes us omniscient? Have we a record of omniscience? We are the strongest nation in the world today. I do not believe we should ever apply that economic, political, or military power unilaterally. If we had followed that rule in Vietnam, we wouldn’t have been there! None of our allies supported us; not Japan, not Germany, not Britain or France. If we can’t persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we’d better reexamine our reasoning.”

Unfortunately for McNamara, his own government did not heed him today in Iraq, despite the fact that Vietnam should have shown the US that it can fail if it uses arms to settle an issue of foreign policy.

McNamara said he believes there is no eliminating war, much to the misfortune of mankind. “We’re not going to change human nature any time soon. It isn’t that we aren’t rational. We are rational. But reason has limits. There’s a quote from T.S. Eliot that I just love: ‘We shall not cease from exploring, and at the end of our exploration, we will return to where we started, and know the place for the first time.’ Now that’s in a sense where I’m beginning to be.”

It is dramatic to see how the fog of the Vietnam War was never lifted. Its even more dramatic to see that seemingly, the fog has not lifted from McNamara’s heart.

elections as gnashing and pulling of teeth

I had a wisdom tooth pulled out a week ago and it was not a pleasant experience. Worst, me and the dentist to decide to leave a tooth fragment in. This is when strong teeth is a disadvantage. There was much pulling, must drilling and much pain. Towards the end of the procedure, the anesthesia began to wear off and I was willing very tired and weary. I actually felt the last two of the three stitches on my gums. Thankfully, i am close to ending my diet of soft food and pain killers.

To go with the pain and agony of having my wisdom tooth pulled out, I had to endure the anguish of watching Philippine elections unfold. Each occasion of electoral violence and vote buying felt like my tooth being drilled all over again. kakangilo.

The Philippine National Police sure did its darnest best to characterize the last elections as peaceful. But i don’t suppose 150 plus people killed can be considered peaceful by any means imaginable. While lower than 2004’s 180 plus people dead, one life is just too many. Thankfully, media did not buy the spin.

But can there ever be peaceful elections in the Philippines? obviously, the Comelec has done zilch in assuring no one gets killed. In fact, it might have even promoted the bloodshed by issuing all those exemptions of all those guns to all those politicians. If my recollection is right, the Comelec gave out around 20,000 exemptions. A total gun ban is the only way to reduce the bloodshed. All guns should, without exemption, be in the hands of only the police and military.

It seems the PNP did nothing in stamping out private armies, members of whom are adept at hiding. Stamping out private armies seems to be the only sure way to control rabid followers of politicians who will just as easily whack someone for their patron. I have heard stories of a list compiled by the PNP. Now if the national police has already identified politicians who are keeping private armies, then what is the PNP waiting for? The task force formed to go after private armies? i heard not a peep from them the whole elections. It didn’t help they were avoiding the press.

As i write this, special elections are underway in Lanao province. Sadly, the holding of the elections here in this troubled province is a reflection and a result of how bad the Comelec handled the 2004 elections. These people should not be allowed to handle the 2010 elections, or this country is really in trouble. Friend Tony Velasquez on ANC says the Lanao is one of the most disorderly this election year. That is putting it mildly i think. I’ve been to Mindanao and I have marveled at the beauty of the landscape which provides a sharp contrast to the violence.

I spotted an interview with Julkipli Wadi of UP’s Islamic Studies where he said people in Mindanao don’t take elections seriously because they don’t feel the national government is doing anything for the quality of their lives. But, it can be argued, isn’t that what you have the local governments for?

A friend who writes for another broadsheet told me that local elections there are so intense because local officials feel an entitlement to funds from the national government, at the expense of public services. This might be a simplistic observation not supported by any facts. But if that were the case, politicians in Mindanao seems to me no different from a politician in either Luzon or Visayas. On the other hand, I am sure there are responsible officials in Mindanao who care about their constituents. But like most things in this country, they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Time to take my painkillers.

new stuff, technolust, and a bouncing baby

Its a miracle I still remember my username and password for this blog account. It has been awhile, so maybe some updates are in order.

First off, I have been shipped out of the education beat and I am now covering the PNP. I was brought in to pinch hit around October when Luige left for the US. But lo and behold, in the next reshuffle last January, I was made to stay. The pace here is faster and it has been quite an effort just to keep up. The stress level has gone up but I am managing. I have to constantly remind myself to keep focused and keep with the pace. Although, truth to tell, I would have wanted a smaller beat, like the few stray beats in QC (DILG, COA, CHR) or the health beat because I think stories there have more impact than the “glorification” of the PNP generals. But don’t get me wrong, some of them are quite nice.

Before I left the education beat, my little boy Anton came into my life. To be honest, I had always felt a little detached in the past when my male friends start going on about how wonderful their little tykes are. Now, I can totally relate, especially the part when they say “naalis pagod ko pagnakikita ko baby ko” and “nagmamadali nga ako pauwi para makita ko si Junior.”

Our childbirth story is enough to fill one blog entry. I hope to accomplish this when I have more time to give it more justice.

Moving on, lately, the office has thankfully come to its senses and issued us the new Macbooks. We managed to convince them that if they didn’t want viruses prowling around our office system, they should get us the Macs. I must say that its been a blast using these things. In terms of user-friendliness and “eyecandy-ness” nothing beats a Mac.

Just a few days after I got the Mac, I was able to score a free Nokia E61 from my network’s retention program. Despite the lack of a camera, this phone is very useful. It has wifi and surfing the Net is effortless and amazing. I was aiming for the Treo, since I think it has a better build than the fragile Nokias. But the Treos dont have wifi as of yet. I’ve already replaced the stock memory card for a 1 gig card for larger storage room. Truly, this is what our computers have become.

So now, I can safely safe, without a shadow of a doubt, my life is complete. Except for my tiresome beat. haha

Retake the exam! Please!

There must be something severly wrong with our society when the young start thinking of only themselves. Sadly, this seems to me the case in the ongoing controversy over the leakage in the last nursing board exam.

Something must be said about the slapdash and incompetent way the Professional Regulation Commission has handled the situation. As early as right after the June board exams. There was already a call for the PRC to hold the results of the exam until the leakage issue is settled. Yet what did the PRC, in all its wisdom, do? It released the results anyway. I suspect this smart move has a two-fold purpos. First, to polarize the students who took the exam into those who want a retake and those who don’t. And I must say, the move succeeded to do just that. Second, that the release was meant as a cover-up.

Something must also be said about getting to the bottom of the whole mess. Even after the NBI came out with the results of its investigation into the matter, I have yet to see any of the personalities in the controversy hauled to court. Kudos should go to star witness Dennis Bautista and his legal team in their quest to jail the perpetrators of the leakage. Thumbs down to Renato Aquino and his rabid anti-retake group. I had the occassion to ask him if there was anything he and his group were doing to rack up a case against the perpetrators, like convincing students to come out as witnesses. He gave a long winded explanation, including the fact the anti-retake side already had witnesses (actually the only witness they have is Dennis Bautista), but in short, they were doing diddly-squat. Nothing.

Finally, something has to be said for the refusal of the Aquino’s group to retake the test. Simply put, its the only way to cleanse the test, nursing as a profession. Unfortunately, to say the least, I sense the incapacity of these people to see the forest from the trees. This only indicates to me the selfish depths they have sunk. Talking to them, I get the feeling that all they want is their licenses, to hell with everything else. Sad.

Dan da Man

I can’t say I was particularly close to Dan Campilan, the GMA TV news reporter who died in a vehicular accident last week. But I couldn’t shake off the fact that this is the second reporter who wrote “30” in the span of around a month, the last being my good friend Hazel Recheta who perished in the line of duty while covering the eruption of Mt. Mayon.

In fact, the last time I saw Dan was at Hazel’s funeral. He was occupied with comforting another friend Cecille Lardizabal who was crying copious tears. Later outside the funeral parlor, I managed to bum a cigarette from Dan, sitting with Cecille and Mark Salazar in one corner looking forlorn with their eyes swelling from too much crying. I muttered my thanks and slunk away to smoke that much needed cig and assuage my own grief.

I had seen Dan in other coverages and called him “Dan da Man” playfully. He would respond with a kind nod of the head and the killer smile. True, Dan cut a handsome figure. He also struck me as a little shy, like a school boy in a new playground. He was likeable and he took his job seriously. The profession truly needs young and dedicated reporters. Losing them so young while at the peak of their careers makes me worry a little for the profession.

So Danny boy, don’t worry. We’ll see you later in the Great Newsroom in the sky.

This time, I’ll bring the smokes.

adjustments

As my wife said in her own blog, it’s been more than a week since we have been discharged from the hospital. Now is the real test, I think. No more nurses, no more nursery to take care of the little one. It’s all up to us.

I will be eternally grateful to my in-laws for taking us in for the meantime. There is nothing like an extra pair of hands and their rich experience in child-rearing. It’s a longer drive to Antipolo, but the surroundings are quiet and soothing. It helps calm my oftentimes frantic mind. The superb cooking of my mother-in-law also soothes my hungry tummy.

I have to say its been particularly difficult for M. All the sleepless nights compounded by the difficult but healthier decision to breastfeed. Almost overnight, the both of us have turned into “experts” in breastfeeding. Thankfully, little Anton seems to have gotten the hang of it. I must say that I am beginning to be somewhat proficient in putting him to sleep. But I rue the fact that most of the time, I feel a wee bit helpless and I have difficulty getting up early in the morning to try to put Anton to sleep when M. is too tired.

I have never admired anyone more than I do my wife now with the difficult job she is undertaking. I cannot imagine other husbands who would leave the difficult job of child-rearing to their wives during the day, and abuse and physically beat them at night. There must be a corner of hell reserved for heartless ogres like them.

Now the problem are the various ailments that usually hang around newborns. Nasal congestion, colic crying bouts, body temperatures, etc. Hoepfully, we can stay cool and above all of these.

But truly, nothing makes me happier right now than staring at my little one while he is staring at me in return. Hopefully, this indicates to me that we are connecting somehow. For me, he is the repository of everything that is beautiful about this world (and to think there was a time when I didn’t find much in this world I can call “beautiful”).

And I have never loved M. more than I do now. There are the hardships, but there are the joys. Joys never felt before and that are just completely beyond words.

And the good part is, there is more joy to come. What did I do to deserve all of this?

Hazel and Boyet

Good friends are really hard to find even in a profession like journalism where being personable really counts. I thank my lucky stars I came across such great people like Hazel Recheta and Boyet Aravilla.

The first time I met Hazel, I instantly liked her. I was then covering the PNP in Crame for my old Manila Times paper. I remember I had a quick lunch in Galleria with her and ABS-CBN reporter Gigi Grande. We all instantly bonded, moreso the two gals. We were all from UP, young and eager to make our mark in the journalism world.

I would meet Hazel later in certain coverages. I later found out she got married and had a child. The last time I saw her was a presscon in PCGG last month where with pride, she showed me a picture of her baby girl. She loved her family so much it was infectious.

She was a sweet, friendly, and charming gal and never said a terrible thing about anyone. I’ve always admired people like that. She was full of life and loved to banter about anything. Chika ever, is what I remember calling her once.

And she was dead serious about her job, fleshing out each and every detail of her report. She was a true professional who worked hard and had more substance than some reporters I know.

Words escape me at the moment. I can only wonder how she could ever leave this world at this time. But what God gives, He can also take away.

The blue funk resulting from news of Hazel’s death made me recall the death another friend, Boyet Aravilla of the Star.

Covering the Manila police beat, I also bonded with Boyet since we were the only young men covering the beat at that time. He was a playful bloke, always ready with a witty but piercing retort to the jocular teasing going around all the time in the press room. And he had a quiet, serious side, concerned about his future which certainly included his then girlfriend Karen.

When he and Karen split up, Boyet was never the same. I could literally feel the emptiness inside of him that was carved out when Karen was finally out of his life.

During his wake, I shed no tear, but it was so painful to say goodbye to him. He was about to join our paper, a new beginning that I thought could have been something good for him, something to make him forget and to dull the pain and to forge on. Now I would never know if this would be true. At his side, I told him silently that he could have hung on a little more because things might have turned out good. That he could have stayed awhile longer, because me and our friends needed him. We needed him to remind us that somehow life goes on despite the slings and arrows of our misfortunes. We needed him so we can forget the drudgery of our jobs and the ugliness we saw in this world.

But he went anyway. Maybe the emptiness might have weighed too heavy on him, or maybe it was really his time because he was good and true.

I would give anything to be able to share one more bottle of beer, one more word, one more laugh with Hazel and Boyet. So I can learn from them how to live, and how to love.