By Ramon Dacawi
“SHOE on the Other Foot,” that unprecedented press conference-in-reverse last Monday, was to allow local media to take on the role of newsmakers, and for government officials in the Cordillera to attempt to be their interviewers.
It was an innovation from “Gridiron-in-Reverse”, done twice in the late 1980s that gave venue for newsmakers to turn the tables on media, to rib them for their lapses, biases and sins of omission and commission in their news reportage, editorials and opinion pieces.
“Shoe on the Other Foot” was not inspired by that recent press conference incident, when a reporter turned his pair of shoes into projectiles but missed his mark as President Bush adroitly dodged.
The dub came from a title of a concert in support of ailing Baguio musicians who, over the years, have been performing pro bono in concerts for patients they hardly knew from Adam or Eve.
Fellow aging journalist Eli Refuerzo, who hosted Monday’s interaction, assured no shoe throwing. Nobody wanted to bet otherwise. If there were government officials even remotely having the thought upon encountering a reporter who had misquoted them or presented their story out of context, they were not foolish enough to voice it out.
Only retired police Chief Superintendent Rogelio Aguana had the courage then tell mediaso, simply because he was a brother to the media, so close to them there were no bars to hold. So he called a press conference when his Sunday morning coffee turned bland, if not bitter on reading a story critical to his command.
Then a major and the provincial commander of Benguet, Aguana opened up the moment he felt everybody’s initial alcohol intake was starting to loosen the tongue and sharpen the brain, if not the other way around.
“Apay kuna yo nalaka ti trabaho ti provincial commander? (Do you think it’s easy to work as provincial commander?),” he posed. He then paused and then turned to Oswald Alvaro, then with the Baguio Midland Courier.
“No kayat mo, Oswald, buludem toy paltog ken yunipormik ta ipadas mo man agyan ditoy lugar ko, uray laeng tallo nga bulan (Oswald, if you want, borrow my service firearm and uniform and be in my shoe, even only for three months.)”
Like fellow columnist March Fianza, Manong Oswald was soft- (and sometimes slow-) spoken. We waited for him to break the silence triggered by Aguana’s dare.
“Apay kuna yo nalaka ti trabaho ti reporter? (Do you think it’s easy to be a reporter?),” he retorted. “No kayat yo, ipabulod ko daytoy ballpen ken note book ko ta ag-reporter kayo met man iti tallo nga bulan. (If you want, borrow my ballpen and note book and be a reporter for three months).” Oswald shot back.
We broke into laughter. Aguana’s glee seemed the healthiest; as it triggered tears he tried to wipe off.
At the first gridiron-in-reverse in one of lawyer Moises Cating’s corners at Burnham Park, then judge and eventual Court of Appeals Justice Salvador Valdez Jr. and then Mayor Edna Tabanda of La Trinidad were quick to take on the drift of the exercise.
Tabanda had profuse praises for broadcast journalists Chris Bartolo and Sammy Guerzon for their repeated airing and lauding of the town’s liquor ban from 8:00 p.m. onwards.
Her lament, she said, was each time she checked on bars ignoring the ordinance. She would find either Chris or Sammy, or both, among the customers.
I reined in the temptation to comment, as the rule was media were there to listen, not to draw their own dummy swords. The ordinance, I wanted to say, proved a boon to bars in Baguio where her constituents would relocate once the clock strikes 8:00 p.m. Some of them end up victims of mauling when they get too rowdy, as some of us harmless Igorots become when under the influence.
As pointed out by prominent lawyer and columnist Pablito Sanidad, last Monday’s exchange was also for clean fun – be it at the expense of the media or their interviewers – while serving as a forum on media reportage on regional development and autonomy.
He began his ribbing when I called to follow up information regional director Helen Tibaldo’s invitation for him to serve as a panelist. “I haven’t been writing on development and autonomy,” he began. “Is there development and autonomy to write about in the first place?”
As it turned out, some of the newsmakers-turned-interviewers were cautious in fielding questions. Others, according to a coverage story the following morning, were out for witch-hunting. The perception was, perhaps, triggered by the way some “interviewers” organized their questions, or for answering those of others.
Dr. Myrna Cabotaje, regional health officer, saw the point of the forum when she asked what the spin (angle) should be in writing news on regional development and autonomy for the Cordillera.
Eli asked me to respond, and I took the premise of Atty. Sanidad that any renewed push for regional autonomy should come from the grassroots and the advocacy of Mr. Yip Kok Choong, the late secretary general of the Asia-Pacific Alliance of YMCA’s.
Mr. Yip worked for and advocated “community development with a human face”. My reading of the phrase, in relation to Dr. Cabotaje’s question, is that the news must include the perspectives of those in the grassroots, those being served by our government agencies.
The news spin, and the story itself, turns more interesting, credible and inspiring if the success of government service is also written from the views of, say, the farmer or any other beneficiary of government programs, not only from the point of the line agency or traditional newsmaker or source.
Whatever failings were perceived from the press-conference-in-reverse may yet be diminished in the second round, for the newsmakers to know the media better and for media to see – and perhaps admit and rectify – their own failings in their work through feedbacks from those who hear and read their reportage. (email: firstname.lastname@example.org for comments).