Thursday, December 8, 2011

25 Years: Nobody told me it'd be like this

Twenty-five years and some 2,000 feature articles, special/investigative reports, and column pieces later, here I am still asking: Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be like this?

I’ve had an amazing time. Amazing, meaning I have been privy to so many things of this world that other mortals are not because “they are not there.” Oh “to be there” where people live and die, feast and famish, laugh and cry, to be there where events unfold and to watch history leave its tracks behind for us to decipher and to be sometimes awed and humbled enough to make us fall on our knees in thanksgiving and sometimes in mourning.
To be there where the heavens opened and hell broke loose. To watch great lives, small lives, dirty lives, fascinating lives, beautiful lives, incredible lives rise and fall, bloom, break into a thousand pieces or become whole again.
On Wednesday, 44 employees, I among them, were honored for 25 years of service to the Philippine Daily Inquirer and its mission. We are this year’s Silvers. Also honored were those who have completed 20, 15 and 10 years with the Inquirer. For every milestone, the Inquirer gifts us with a precious token in gold—real gold. And more.

Dec. 9, 1985 is the actual founding date of the Inquirer, now the country’s biggest in circulation and with a staggering global reach. So Friday is the Inquirer’s 26th anniversary. I’ve been with the Inquirer for 25 years and nine months. I joined on March 5, 1986, a few days after the People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship. Before that, I had already been contributing articles to the Inquirer, a new kid on the block then, and also to its feisty sister, the weekly Mr. & Ms. Special Edition (published by Eggie Apostol and edited by Letty J. Magsanoc) and to the so-called “alternative/mosquito press.” These publications played a huge role in bringing down the dictatorship.

We had paid a price for all that daring. And a price we also later demanded. Last February, a number of us in the press got our first taste of justice in the form of initial compensation from the Marcos estate. We were among the almost 10,000 victims of human rights violations who had filed a class suit against the Marcoses. But that is another story.

A day after the 1986 February Revolution, I received a call from Letty Magsanoc. I was asked to join the Sunday magazine of the three-month-old Inquirer. “You start tomorrow,” she told me. And I was to fly to Leyte right away to look into the fabulous treasures left behind by Imelda Marcos who would have been turned into tiny bits by the mob that descended on MalacaƱang Palace had she not fled on time.

Although I was a feature writer for the magazine, I also wrote occasionally for the daily. In 1995, I asked to move to the daily so I could write more investigative and special reports. Just recently, I asked to be transferred back to the magazine, although I could also still write features for the daily. I began writing this weekly column, Human Face, in the Opinion section, in July 1991.

It’s been a fantabulous 25 years. I would not have met people so diverse and strange and beautiful and ugly had I stayed in a previous career in psychology or lived a vowed life in the convent. From behavioral science and a vowed life to full-time journalism? It was an easy shift. The reason is obvious.

The 25 years are gently crashing in slow-mo on me now, chasing me all over again. There are stories I consider significant, not because they won honors or anything (like prize money) but because I thought they were high in excitement, danger, the human factor. Or simply because I relished doing them, period. Whether or not people loved or hated me for writing them is another story.

Nobody but nobody told me I’d be climbing mountains and bathing in freezing rivers. Nobody told me I’d be meeting with armed men and women who had spent away their youth and their dreams in uncharted jungles. Nobody told me I’d be able to talk to the powerful and the mighty as well as to the poorest and the most forgotten of the land. Nobody told me that I’d mingle with people who were the epitome of saintliness or that I’d one day come face to face with a 17-time assassin who would tell me his life story.

Nobody told me people would entrust to me their ugly secrets and their deadly sins. Nobody told me I’d confront a snake and slip on a mountain slope on my way to meeting forest dwellers who spoke in songs.

Nobody told me I’d be dining with generals, politicians and movie stars; or that I’d be sleeping with prostitutes and embracing AIDS-stricken women. Nobody told me I’d have to track down members of a death squad and break bread with them. Nobody told me one of my stories would become a multi-awarded blockbuster movie. Nobody told me I’d be watching up close a convicted rapist die by lethal injection.

I’ve learned about the sex lives of the very poor as well as the proclivities of the rich, and that the most obnoxious could be likable and the most attractive reek of bad odor. I’ve learned that people in the hinterlands read the Inquirer. I’ve been honored and praised. I’ve been rebuked and reviled. I am astonished that students are doing theses on my works. (Tip: A lot of my stuff are at the Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings.)

A great and sobering adventure it has been.

Every now and then I’d turn out some literary gems (or so they tell me!). But many are rough shards of so many lives, events and places. What does it matter, I would say, I was there, others were not. And doing the stories gave me great times—of terror and joy and sadness and fun.

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