COMMENTARY: Far from being just a profession, media work is a commitment to serve

Apr. 18, 2010

Davao Today

I thought I have seen the worst and the most heinous crime ever since the time of Martial Law.  My ‘baptism of fire’ as a budding journalist took place one “Black Easter” in the early 80s, when unidentified men threw hand grenades into the worshipping throng at the San Pedro Cathedral in Davao City, instantly killing several people; including children and old folks celebrating the Easter that turned into a disaster.

It was my first assignment then. I was tasked to come up with feature stories on the victims.  At first, I thought it was an impossible task but when the stories came out, so many people were touched.

When “hamletting” of rural folks became a strategy of the Armed Forces of the Philippines supposedly to “flush out” rebels from the communities, those of us covering a fact finding mission thought we were done in San Vicente, Laak, a municipality in Davao del Norte.

As we were interviewing folks in the area, we were suddenly fired at, prompting all of us—with our Nikon cameras and notebooks—to dive into “fox holes” which could only accommodate the family members of each house.

DANGEROUS JOB. Davao media gather at the Centennial park to seek justice for the Ampatuan victims, that included a large number of journalists. ( photo)

DANGEROUS JOB. Davao media gather at the Centennial park to seek justice for the Ampatuan victims, that included a large number of journalists. ( photo)

A photojournalist who had no other choice but to lie facedown by the side of the road aimed his camera at an approaching APC (armored personnel carrier), shooting away.  But he found out after he developed the photos that what he got was an empty box of tri-x film right smack in his view.

Martial Law Challenge.

Another heart-stopping coverage was the killing of Fr. Favali by the notorious religious cult called Ilaga, whom witnesses said, ate parts of the spilt brains of the murdered priest after they shot him dead.  Few hours after we heard about the incident, our group of idealistic writers and newly trained community media practitioners had decided to chase the story, ignoring the dangers that were apparent during that time.

But then, it never occurred to us that we were treading on dangerous grounds. That we could be dealing with people who did not possess sound judgment, who only wanted to kill; members of a fanatical cult that wantonly kills with impunity.

There we were, unfazed, unafraid.  While riding the truck that took us to that most dreaded place, we were shouting at the top of our lungs our anger at the perpetrators and those at the helm of the national leadership.

After coming home unscathed, we were more emboldened by the so-called power of the press to censure the ‘bad guys’ and the decaying government system in society.  It never occurred to us that we could have been killed and be held responsible for our own folly.

It was only later that I was filled with dread at the thought.  When Martial Law was lifted I thought everything would go back to normal, and that we have had enough lessons to learn from our experiences.

Until we learned about the butchery in Maguindanao province.

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