Friday, July 31, 2009

Adventures in journalism 1

I have blogged in 2007 about being irked by the persistence in the misspelling of Cotabato: "It irked me then and still irks me now. With the great strides in technology, the built-in spell checkers and auto-correct features in browsers and word encoding programs, the misspellings are still as rampant as weeds."

Now comes the misspelling of Sarangani as Saranggani.

Using Google Reader to read online news today, I noticed a headline from the Philippine Star's online site: Suspect in Saranggani blast nabbed. The same word was misspelled throughout the news item written by Dino Maragay. Posthaste, I submitted the following comment to the said site:

Your copyreader/editor must be sleeping on the job. It's SARANGANI and not Saranggani. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarangani
Within the day, I got an email from Philstar.com:

Regarding your post:

Your copyreader/editor must be sleeping on the job. It's SARANGANI and not Saranggani. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarangani

Moderator comment:
This forum does not allow personal attacks against people or institutions.

Moderated by:

If you think this post should not be disapproved, forward this email to the philstar.com Operations Manager Eden Estopace (edenestopace@philstar.com) and optionally state why it should not be disapproved.)

Note that the main purpose of forwarding this email to the Operation Manager is to improve the moderation process. It is not aimed at immediately approving the disapproved comment.

Ref no: 464040
Wondering why I was sent such a reply rejecting my comment as a "personal attack against people or institutions," I emailed the Operations Manager Eden Estopace:

Dear Estopace,

The attached (comment) is not a personal attack on your copyreader/editor. It was meant to correct the wrong spelling of Sarangani.

Thank you.
I opened my Google Reader again and found out the said news item was revised with Sarangani spelled right this time in the headline and text. I replied to the email sender, Dino Maragay, who also wrote the said news item with the misspelled word:

Hi Dino,

I just checked the online news item you wrote and saw that you have corrected the wrong spelling of Sarangani. Thank you.

As per your email-reply, instead of a simple thank you, this is what I get from you for calling attention to the error?
And here's Dino Maragay's reply to me:

Hi reader,

I made the judgment to disapprove your comment because it promotes an atmosphere of negativity for philstar. You could've just pointed out the mistake and we'll gladly change it. But instead you hinted that someone is "sleeping on the job" while in fact, no one does here at philstar.

Please understand that we, I mean I (yes, i'm the sole editor in charge for the entire day), am working at a very fast pace to provide you readers with updates. And such "unpleasant" comments, i think, are inappropiate to be given to those striving hard to give you readers free and updated content.

Anyway, please accept my apology for not thanking you for spotting an error for us. Thanks again and keep posting.

My comment was "unpleasant," "inappropriate" and "promotes an atmosphere of negativity for philstar"? At the risk of being redundant, I will state it here again: With the great strides in technology, the built-in spell checkers and auto-correct features in browsers and word encoding programs, can't misspelling geographical names like Sarangani or Cotabato specially on the part of news organizations and journalists, in print or online, be called "sleeping on the job"?

Anyway, to deal with the reason for Philstar's rejecting my comment because it was a "personal attack against people or institutions", I wrote:

Hi Dino,

I think you need to check your dictionary as to the difference between "personal" and "professional."

My comment "sleeping on the job" is clearly not a "personal attack."

Thank you for taking time for this. :)
And this is his reply:

Well, that's the closest reason available and applicable to your comment, as far as our forum interface is concerned. ;-) Can't really do anything about it.

But the fact that you used unpleasant words is sufficient enough, at least in my judgment (which i am fully entitled to), to have your comment disapproved.

What? "Thank you for your comment" is not among the options in Philstar's forum interface? Let's look at this scenario: If Dino Maragay replied with "Thank you for your comment" instead of spitefully rejecting it with a click of his mouse and proceeded to revise the news item he wrote, then the above exchange of emails need not happen. But noooo, instead of thanking me for my feedback, Dino turned the tables on me and labeled my comment as "unpleasant", "personal attack against him" and "inappropriate" to make it look like it was all my fault in the first place for having submitted my comment.

What is crystal clear to me was that I caught a news writer sleeping on his job (for not checking the spelling of Sarangani which is part of his job - checking facts) which he did not have the gumption and grace to admit, but revised his news items anyway and thanked me after I asked him if a simple "thank you" would have been a more appropriate response.

Jeez, methinks DepEd needs to bring GMRC (Good Manners & Right Conduct) and Values Education back to the classrooms.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fave Song: Alone Again, Naturally

In a little while from now
If I’m not feeling any less sour
I promise myself to treat myself
And visit a nearby tower
And climbing to the top will throw myself off
In an effort to make it clear to who
Ever what it’s like when you’re shattered
Left standing in the lurch at a church
Where people saying: "My God, that’s tough
She's stood him up"
No point in us remaining
We may as well go home
As I did on my own
Alone again, naturally

To think that only yesterday
I was cheerful, bright and gay
Looking forward to well who wouldn’t do
The role I was about to play
But as if to knock me down
Reality came around
And without so much as a mere touch
Cut me into little pieces
Leaving me to doubt
Talk about God and His mercy
Or if He really does exist
Why did He desert me in my hour of need
I truly am indeed Alone again, naturally

It seems to me that there are more hearts
broken in the world that can’t be mended
Left unattended
What do we do? What do we do?

Alone again, naturally
Now looking back over the years
And whatever else that appears
I remember I cried when my father died
Never wishing to hide the tears
And at sixty-five years old
My mother, God rest her soul,
Couldn’t understand why the only man
She had ever loved had been taken
Leaving her to start with a heart so badly broken
Despite encouragement from me
No words were ever spoken
And when she passed away
I cried and cried all day
Alone again, naturally
Alone again, naturally

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fave Song: Softly as I Leave You

Softly, I will leave you softly
For my heart would break if you should wake and see me go
So I leave you softly, long before you miss me
Long before your arms can beg me stay
For one more hour or one more day
After all the years, I can't bear the tears to fall
So, softly as I leave you there

(Softly, long before you kiss me)
(Long before your arms can beg me stay)
(For one more hour) or one more day
After all the years, I can't bear the tears to fall
So, softly as I leave you there
As I leave I you there
As I leave I you there

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kapitan Sino - Book Review

Bob Ong's latest book, Kapitan Sino, explores the fleeting nature of heroism and what it takes to be a hero. Is it the name, the costume, the superpowers, good intentions that make a hero?

Set in the second half of the 80s, the book features a protagonist, Rogelio Manglicmot, who has an electronics repair shop where during a black-out, his friend Bok-bok discovers an electric bulb lit overhead and a soldering gun still working in his hand.

Rogelio and Bok-bok goes into a friendly discussion on what the hero's name should be. Another friend, blind Teng (who wanted to be called Tessa because she is now a young woman) provides Rogelio with the hero's costume cobbled from used clothes and things sent over from the US by her aunt.

With the help of Bok-bok, Rogelio explores his new persona with trepidation as he fails to foil a bank hold-up in his first official act as a hero. His exploits soon involve fighting monsters, criminal elements, rescuing people from around the globe, among others. The costume soon becomes wrapped up in the synergy of a hero that even Rogelio's old rubber shoes become his lethal weapon.

Bob Ong nips the romance of Rogelio and Tessa in the bud and this becomes a turning point in the life of Rogelio as he devotes most of his time in heroic feats, neglecting his repair shop and family in the meantime. Rogelio's grumpy invalid father gives him a man-to-man talk which brought him back to earth.

What follows is a series of events that unfold to Rogelio and the reader the fleeting nature of heroism (very funny is the awarding of P30,000 prize by a local politician for Kapitan Sino and a number of Kapitan Sino poseurs show up to claim it). For Rogelio, there is no other way to be hero when a pandemic a la AH1N1 strikes his locality and discovers for himself what it takes to be hero.

Very deftly, Bob Ong gives us a novel that makes us laugh and in between laughs, makes us ponder the intricacies and implications of being a hero. His funny descriptions of the people in Rogelio's neighborhood (two neighbors, with OFW hubbies, on a competition as to who's got the best appliances, community projects that get talked to death but never acted on) are spot-on and embarrassingly personal. Kapitan Sino's exploits that fail (like that scene after he saves a train, among the passengers, a wife discovers her husband with another woman and Kapitan Sino gets blamed for the ensuing domestic dispute or that homage to the first Superman movie where Kapitan Sino rescues a cat from a guava tree, but inadvertently burns it to a crisp) make us realize that sometimes good intentions are not enough to be a hero.

Bob Ong's avid readers will surely have a field day discovering new quotable quotes which may soon become platitudes, but it is my sincere hope that they (including me) would take these words to heart and put them into action in our own lives.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Praying for Tita Cory - Reprint

No photo Praying for Tita Cory
NEW BEGINNINGS column By Bum D. Tenorio, Jr. Updated July 05, 2009 12:00 AM

Photo is loading...
Photo by Manny Marcelo

They say the most potent prayer for someone who is unwell is said by a person who is also sick. If that is the case, God must be awed as to how my father prays for you. My hypertensive 74-year-old father is in the hospital, too, as he is being treated because he stopped eating for three days. When he learned from me that there would be a novena of healing Masses for you, my father said he would also pray for you.

My father is just one of the millions who are storming the gates of heaven now for you. My family, friends and I have formed a positive house of prayer for your wellbeing. In fact, since end of June, my Facebook status reads: “There will be a novena of healing Masses for former President Cory Aquino from July 1 to July 9 at 12:15 p.m. at the Greenbelt Chapel, Makati City. Let’s pray for Tita Cory. Thanks.”

Truth is, I have always been praying for your welfare ever since I learned about your cancer. Like a real Cory fanatic, I cried when your children Noynoy and Kris confirmed on nationwide TV on March 24, 2008 about your cancer of the colon.

Why do people cry for someone they don’t even know personally? I cried because I felt for the icon of my political awakening –– you were the mother who, by virtue of what you did for our country, taught me to understand what democracy was all about. Even without us knowing each other personally –– and I ask for your understanding with my temerity in calling you Tita –– I have always regarded you as my mother in more ways than one. And here’s a son saying a prayer for you. And like the million others who do the same, I have this fervent belief that God acts fast on our pleas.

I was only 10 months old when martial law was declared; 11 years old when your husband Ninoy was assassinated; and 14 when the late strongman called for a snap election. If only I could vote then, I would surely have written your name on my ballot. But my parents and my other relatives did.

Life in my little and sleepy barrio in Laguna went on with the heat of the presidential campaign slightly felt. We had no TV yet then but our transistor radio was always on. It was the same radio that my parents would bring to the rice field. (I remember having to place two big Eveready batteries under the sun hoping that doing so would charge them longer). In the farm, my parents would wear identical yellow long-sleeved shirts made of polyester with “Sobra na, Tama na, Palitan na” slogan. Those shirts of theirs would naturally be smudged with mud at the end of the day but mother would always find time washing them. At least twice a week I would see my parents wear those shirts to the field. By the time those yellow shirts faded to white with constant washing and the slogan almost wiped out, the tenant in MalacaƱang was also expunged like the dirt in my parents’ shirts after a hard day’s work in the field.

It was at the height of the presidential campaign that I understood brilliantly the meaning of charisma. All I had to do was to watch you in our neighbor’s television and you would simply become charisma personified—with the mammoth crowd surrounding you, listening intently to whatever you would say. That gave birth to my being drawn to what they called then the Cory magic.

When People Power ended on Feb. 25, 1986, my parents declared a holiday from working in the field. I felt I also won. Indeed we all won!

Since then, I have become a silent fan. The rallies, marches and demonstrations against Marcos from 1983 to 1986 that I heard or saw in the news escorted me on my way to being politically aware. You were at the center of this awakening. And I feel, I owed it all to you.

You were installed into power via a bloodless revolt that the rest of the world will remember. And for the democracy you restored for me and the rest of the Filipino people –– a prayer every day, anywhere, anytime is all that a stranger son like me can offer you.

(For your new beginnings, please e-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com or my.new.beginnings@gmail.com. Have a blessed Sunday!)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Writer ka lang pala - Reprint

‘Writer ka lang pala’
By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:20:00 06/17/2009

I remember an experience I once had with the Bureau of Internal Revenue. This was way back during Cory’s time when I was still paying my taxes. I am not paying my taxes now—not since 2005, when the “Hello, Garci” tape came to light. I was paying my taxes then, but for one reason or another failed to do so one particular year. Being a dutiful citizen, and having no problems recognizing Cory as a perfectly legitimate president, I resolved to rectify it.

I went to the BIR, waited a couple of hours for my turn, and finally got to talk with an appraiser, or whatever they call the people there that deal with these things. He took the documents I handed over to him solemnly, flexing his hands like a doctor about to perform a delicate operation. His solemnity vanished in an instant as he scanned my documents, and dismay overran his face like the hordes of Atilla. He suppressed an expletive and groaned, “Writer ka lang pala!” (You’re just a writer!)

I took it those words were a reaction to the couple of hundred pesos I owed government. I took it moreover that those words were a reaction to my entry in the box “occupation,” which was “journalist.” Whatever plans he might have had about negotiating a deal with me were dashed to pieces by that proclamation, or admission. His deflation was a thing to behold. “Writer ka lang pala,” he repeated.

He stamped my papers and dismissed me with a wave of his hand. He probably wondered what he had done to make God punish him that day by sending him someone who wasted his precious time.

That is the one phrase that has stayed with me all these years, one I wear proudly like a medal, and humbly like a reminder: “Writer ka lang pala.”

I remembered this in connection with something I’ve encountered over the years while writing a column for the Inquirer. It’s what detractors tell me when they cannot find a way to refute or get around, my argument. Which is: What you say is all very fine. But those are just words, they are not actions. When will you stop writing and act?

Sometimes, friends, and not just detractors, say this as well. Particularly those who have wondered why I do not entertain going into politics. “Why don’t you run for this or that?” they ask. “With the exposure you have in the country’s number one newspaper, you have an advantage which you can turn into votes. If you win, you can be in a position to do something for this country.”

My answer to this is not that I see no way of winning, although that’s probably true too, since the vote-friendly medium is TV. My answer to that is: “I’m already a writer, as ascertained by the BIR. Why should I want to demote myself and become a politician?”

I am not being entirely facetious when I say this. My point is simply, if a bit airily, that I cannot think of a better way to do something for the country than by writing.

Doctors will never be accused of merely saying and not doing. I do not know of another profession more resolutely associated with acting. You either cure or you do not. The patient either lives or dies. No action could be more fraught with meaning, no action could be more laden with consequence.

It is writers who routinely get to be charged with saying and not doing, of talking and not acting. It is writers who routinely get to be told: That’s all very fine, but when will you act?

It is the most astonishing thing because writing is acting. That is why we call it “the act of writing,” because it is an act. And like physically ministering to the sick, it is a vital act. It is spiritually ministering to the sick, an act that is fraught with meaning, an act that is laden with consequence. When you write, you either cure or you do not. When you write, the world either lives or dies.

What the writer does specifically, an act of awesome reverberations, is to articulate. It is to put reality into words. It is to make reality real.

We’ve all heard Socrates’ famous aphorism, “A life unexamined is a life unlived.” It is a profound insight into life. It is the difference between merely existing and living. Just drawing out the length of your days without looking at where you’ve come from and where you are going, without looking at whether you have been of service to others or only to yourself, without wondering what all this means or what all this amounts to, is not living, it is just existing. You may as well not have been there at all.

It is writers most of all that make that examination, of themselves and the reality around them. It is writers most of all who make that interrogation, of themselves and of the reality around them. It is writers most of all who articulate themselves and the reality around them.

Without that articulation, the world and ourselves are just as unreal as ghostly apparitions. Without that action, the world and ourselves are just a jumble of sense impressions.

We often speak of “grasping” things when we are able to understand them. The word “grasp” is only too apt. The action, like seizing something with the hand, is seizing something with the mind, turning it around, feeling its shape, marveling at its texture, realizing (there goes that word “real” again) that it is there.

You put things into words, you make things real.

It’s not true at all that sticks and stones may break your bones but words can’t. The opposite is true: More than sticks and stones, or indeed more than Manny Pacquiao’s fists, words crush bones. At the very least, you see that in the many knife fights that break out during drinking sprees in dingy neighborhoods because someone called another names.

At the very most you see that in what writers have done. In what a writer of no mean talent named Jose Rizal has done.

Rizal was first and foremost, a writer – a fact that many people have interpreted in various ways, some disparagingly.

I recall that many activists of my time submitted that Andres Bonifacio was the greater hero because he had done something marvelous. He had almost impossibly, given his personal circumstances (he was a plebeian) and his social circumstances (the indios were abject and acquiescent), founded the first truly revolutionary organization of his time. Rizal had merely written essays and novels, which however grand and brilliant did not quite equal in importance the creation of the Katipunan.

Their equation was: Where Rizal had just written, Bonifacio had done. Where Rizal had just expostulated, Bonifacio had acted.

It was no small irony, they went on, that Rizal was tried and executed for subversion. Which we could only attribute to the stupidity of the Spaniards; they had bad intelligence in more ways than one. Rizal was never a member of the Katipunan, however the organization tried to recruit him, or offered the leadership of it to him. In fact he had openly discouraged, if not opposed, it, saying the country was not prepared for a revolution. All Rizal had done, they said, was to become a martyr, which even more ironically only helped to fuel the very thing he tried to hold back.

Looking back, you see how wrong that judgment was. Looking back, you see how the Spanish authorities knew something the activists of my time did not. Namely, that by writing his essays and his novels, Rizal had become more subversive than Bonifacio or any of the Katipuneros. By writing his essays and novels – and doing so better than Marcelo del Pilar and the other propagandists in Spain – he had done more than those who took up arms.

The Spaniards were not wrong in jailing him for subversion, even if they did it for the wrong reasons, even if they did it on the wrong evidence. Rizal was the most subversive Filipino of his time. He did so by putting the plight of the Filipino under Spanish rule into words. He did so by putting the anger, the restiveness and the growing awareness of the indios they were a separate people into words. He did so by putting the reality of his time and place into words.

By doing so, he made that reality real.

It is no surprise that the Spaniards would make this recognition. Given that they had a Miguel Cervantes who had blown up the conventions of his own time and place. Indeed, given that they themselves had deprived the indios of Spanish out of the belief that giving them a unified and unifying language would make them ungovernable.

Spanish rule had lasted more than 300 years not just because the Spanish rulers had divided and conquered, it had done so also because the Spanish rulers had kept the indios mute, silent, voiceless. But then toward the end of that rule, which hastened the end of that rule, the same indios found a voice in Jose Rizal.

By satirizing the friars in his essays, by depicting them as bumbling fools quite apart from womanizing hypocrites, Rizal turned them not just into ordinary mortals but into objects of ridicule. By indicting the Spanish authorities in “Noli” and “Fili,” by railing against their corruption and their backwardness, Rizal turned them into obstacles in the path to progress of the indios that needed to be, and could be, removed. By the ferocity of his mind and the breadth of his talents, Rizal showed his fellow Filipinos how limitless their possibilities were, if only they could be free.

You cannot have anything more subversive than that.

These days, when some people tell me, “That’s all very fine, but when are you going to act?” I just smile and remember this.

I do not mean to compare myself to Rizal. He was one of a kind, a man of resplendent abilities and character, the likes of which we may not see again in a long time, if ever. But it can’t hurt to aspire to become like him in one or two of his many facets. I myself aspire only to catch a glint of his spirit in writing.

Certainly our time lends itself to that aspiration. For the simple reason that our time is not unlike Rizal’s time. In fact, it is almost a mirror image of Rizal’s time – talk of those who do not read history being condemned to repeat it.

It is a time when the rulers are as alien as a colonizing power, pillaging the land with a ruthlessness and ferocity to make the pirates of Tortuga blush. It is a time when the people tasked to safeguard the morals of the indios are as besotted and venal and hypocritical as the friars and oidores, making right wrong and wrong right, and proclaiming God to have ordained this order of things. It is a time when the masa are prostrate and broken and abject, unable to lift the yoke off their backs, reposing their deliverance in false prophets and clowns and sellers of snake oil.

It is a time when you realize that there is no action without articulation, there is no flesh without word, and look for ways to capture the agony of oppression and the ecstasy of liberation. It is a time when you realize that there is no direction without interrogation, there is no life without examination, and look for ways to release the power of a subjected race and the glory of a people longing to be free. It is a time when you realize that to do all this, you have to grope and grasp and clasp with your mind the truth of your plight, to impale with words the thoughts and feelings that flit around you, the fears and aspirations that well up within you, to make reality real so that you can face it, so that you can confront it, so that you can live it.

It is a time when you can tell yourself proudly: Writer ka pala. It is a time when you can remind yourself humbly: Writer ka lang pala.


First part

Second part