deadliest deadline

meandering thoughts on the beat

Monday, June 26, 2006

armed journalism

I am neither averse nor intimated by guns. The fact is, I once owned a firearm. It was a gift from my father. Well sort of. Actually, he wanted to buy a new gun, so he gave me his old one, a 9mm pistol. Unfortunately, I don’t think I was a “gun” kind of a person. With my quick temper, I was afraid that one day, I would do some real harm if I continued to keep my firearm. So I sold it to a policeman (my father never got wind of this). The only good thing that came out of that experience is that it trained me to use a firearm in the event that the need arises, which I think is actually a very remote possibility right now. At least I learned something, no matter how insignificant. I'm being defensive here (harhar). By the way, I bought a motorcycle from the proceeds of the gun. My friends tell me I merely exchanged one dangerous thing for another. At least riding a big bike has less to do with machismo (okay okay, I hear howls of protests here) than with plainly indulging my need for speed. Frankly, I am not amused at all by pronouncements by journalists that they should be allowed to arm themselves. And I am shocked that the government would even suggest that arming journalists is one way for the killings of mediamen to stop. The fact of the matter is that most journalists are already armed. Also, nothing, not even the fact that you do have a firearm with you, will discourage any assassin intent on finishing you off. In my dealings with people who carry and brandish firearms, I also realized that the gun is nothing more than a symbol of machismo to the extreme, a throw back to the Wild Wild West where men lived and died by the gun. But is this the type of society we are living in now? Wild west? Nope. Machismo abounding, yes. Case closed, sell the gun. It’s a role-playing fantasy world shaped for us by Hollywood, where good guys (like us) battle away at our perceived attackers by diving on the ground under a hale of bullets and dirt. Time to wake up. It might be part of an age-old male phallic fascination with the firearm. You know, something long and shiny that spits out…well, something. (hehe) Better to have a gun when you need don’t need it than have no gun when you need it? Balderdash, if you ask me. Looking back now, I don’t think I have heard anything more stupid than that. But anyway, I think the best armor and the best deterrent for a journalist from an attack on his or her life is the ethical and professional practice of the profession. Obviously, once a journalist oversteps the thin line of good journalism and a personal and malicious attack on a person, then there is a possibility that there will be threats. Yes, a journalist is always faced with the possibility of doing a story that will tick someone off. But truthfully, its just a matter of getting the other guy's side on the matter. If that's the case, what is there to fear? In my view, absolutely nothing. Maybe the question is best answered by journalists who advocate arming themselves. I don't think I have heard any of them say "we just want to learn to use guns." Its really all "because there is a threat." Oh please. I remembered I was giving a career talk to a private school once and one of the students ask me if I carried a gun. It came to me that this was a common question that people ask me. Its sad that people have this image of the Filipino journalist as a pistol-packing hombre. Its just not right. Okay, I learned to use a gun. But do I have to hone my so-called "skills" any further with visits to the firing range? No thanks and no more. There are more productive ways to while away your time and money. Like riding my big bike, or reading good books, or learning to cook nilagang baka...or something like that.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

to my son

To my beautiful Anton, When I first learned you were coming into my life, I was so happy. I cried and prayed to God to thank Him for giving you to me. I was afraid a little that I would not be able to provide for you adequately. But please understand that this is normal for men who are expecting the birth of their children. Please be reassured that Daddy will give you everything you need and will try his best to give you everything you want. Daddy and Mommy had a hard life growing up. I made a promise to myself to give you a better life for you Anton, better than my own. Sometimes, I fear for you, my dearest child. I fear I am bringing you into a world full of evil, greed, and hate. When you come out, I know you will see a lot of ugly things. But fear not, Daddy will do his best to keep you from these things so you can grow up to be a very good boy. Daddy wants you to be strong emotionally, yet still sensitive. I hope I can teach you to be independent, but still close to family. I want you to appreciate what you have and not focus on what you don’t or can’t have. I want to teach you that hard work and a good education will take you somewhere. I want to teach you about the consequences of your actions, and let you make you own choices. Everyday, Daddy and Mommy try to make a world a better place to live in for you, even in our own small little way. It’s been tough, I don’t even know if we make any difference at all. But I don’t mind. I hope that when you grow older, you too will try to make the world a better place, for yourself or your love ones. I assure you, it makes for a life really worth living. Everyday, I say a quiet prayer for your safety and health. I promised God that if He delivers you to me safely, I will do my best to raise you the way He would have wanted to and to always thank Him for all our blessings. One day, you will probably fly away from your Mommy and Daddy. If this happens, I want you to know that Daddy and Mommy will always be there for you if you need us. One day, I know you will be old enough to read this. Do you know that as I write this, you are still inside Mommy’s tummy? This early, I want you to know that Mommy and Daddy love you very very much. Alcuin

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

missed education

I haven’t been able to blog because of all the work that came my way. So my entry on the education problem in the country is actually a couple of weeks late. Better late than never. It is sad that media focuses on the problems of education only when school starts. But such is the nature of news and news organizations, they will only go with what is hot at any particular point in time. I for one would love see a constant coverage of education by media, in the same way that politics which actually has a smaller effect on the everyday life of Juan dela Cruz, has a stranglehold on headlines. Doing our special report on the problems of education and covering the education beat has opened my eyes to the various issues involved. These are some of the solutions I encountered that to my view makes a lot of sense. Increase spending – for the past few years, there has been a woeful underinvestment in education. The education budget for this year is a small increase, hardly 10 percent, from last year. If we want the budget to catch up with the shortages in resources, the budget should be at least twice that amount. Unfortunately, education does not seem to be a priority of this administration or those in the past. Increasing the spending for education will solve most of the problems of the system like lack of classrooms, teachers, etc. Rationalize the bureaucracy and decentralize – the Deped has the largest chunk of the bureaucracy. So the budget it gets is swallowed up just for salaries of around half a million teachers. But division superintendents and principals must be allowed some leeway to run their areas of jurisdiction without any encumbrance from the central office. There are a lot of creative people on these levels that have great ideas on how to run schools, especially with limited resources. We must allow them to do just that. Officials who cannot cope shouldn’t even be at their positions and must be replaced. Insulate the system from politics - there is already a roadmap for reforms in education. but there is a need for continuity. we cannot expect anything from a department secretary that stays for less than two years. Deped higher echelon must function as a team, as it did before. the secretary must be allowed to choose his team. i think its also a good way to keep corruption at bay. Involve local governments – from my point of view, local governments are involved but only up to distribution of freebies, like school supplies, uniforms, etc. After all, its makes for great photo opportunities. But what most officials do not realize is that it is not just a matter of throwing resources at their local school systems. They must also make their teachers accountable for the performance of their students. Continue lending support to their public schools with free school supplies, etc but tell the teachers that they must improved the performance scores of their students, or the freebies stop. Throw in a reduction of the teachers salaries (they get allowances after all) and things might happen. Involve the community – a teacher in Makati told me that most parents don’t care how well their children do in school. How a parent thinks this way is completely beyond me. Maybe they do not see that education is the path for a better life for their children at least. There should be a campaign to keep the children in school. Once the children stay in school, the system will also have to make sure the child studies in a comfortable environment conducive to learning. Focus on the teacher – the teacher is the key to it all. They are worth tons of reading materials. They are paid so low yet the output expected of them is so high. Closing the resource gaps will reduce class sizes so that they become more manageable. Teachers must be given more training and more incentive. Support initiatives from the private sector – this should also include the GASTPE program that buys seats in private schools for public school students. The recent outbursts at the president directed at Fe Hidalgo will do little to help the education sector directly. On the other hand, it has made the public more aware of the problem, if only for now. Government must get its priorities right in education. Otherwise, its all matter of making shortages disappear as if by magic. A few slight-of-hand tricks will never make the problem go away.