Ali G. Macabalang
Journalism, according to western experts, is “the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. It is also the product of these activities.”
Authors of related books say that the purpose of journalism “is thus to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, communities, societies, and governments,” though citing its being subject to changes in time evolution and societal settings.
In Central Mindanao including the autonomous region where I have spent most of my over four decades of media practice, I had experienced doing more than heralding issues and events by persuading concerned people or authorities to resolve prevailing problems promptly.
With Divine blessings, my decisions to “walk my talk” in journalism had generally paid off in some urgent situations, including the following:
Armed dispute in Maguindanao’s Dinaig (now Datu Odin Sinsuat) town
Sometime between late 1980s and early 1990s, news about intermittent armed skirmishes between the family of an MILF field leader named Abas and the town’s political clan led by then sitting Mayor Datu Odin Sinsuat.
The protagonists had been trading not only bullets but rocket-propelled grenades for months. Each time they engaged in shootout, the portion of the national highway in Dinaig town had been closed to traffic.
In my running stories in PDI, I had always included public calls for the government to pacify the warring clans, investigate the root cause and resolve it. But I felt dismayed by the usual passive reactions of police and military hierarchies. They tagged the dispute as rido that can be resolved by Moro traditional leaders.
Amid profuse dismay, Blah Bagundang (of Philippine Star then) and I took the cudgel, and brought some bottles of rum (Tanduay) to the office of Col. Jose Halcon, the regional head then of the PC/INP based in Parang, Maguindanao.
While drinking, the three of us alongside some junior officers talked about trivial issues for over three hours. In the fourth hour, or about 8:00p.m., I started injecting in our huddle the Moro community’s concern about the passiveness of government authorities in addressing rido.
Blah and I explained that such passiveness had been taking tolls on human lives, not to mention the onus of innocent civilians being displaced
Col. Halcon, obviously affected by reasons, suddenly ordered his men to get ready for a “surprise” trip to Dinaig town that night. He asked me and Blah to join him inside one of two V-150 armored personnel carriers, which were tailed by three six-by-six trucks filled with PC/INP elements in full combat gears. (One or two Moro junior officers whispered to me words of mixed rage and hesitance, saying he and us could meet untimely death because of our persuasion. But they joined the trip to obey Halcon’s order.)
While on the highway towards Dinaig town, Blah and I prodded Col. Halcon to use a megaphone first and address the warring families residing at the opposite sides of the road.
When we reached the troubled town, the convoy of combat vehicles parked at both sides of the rode, and Col. Halcon paged via megaphone the respective leaders of feuding families to come out, and join him for a talk. Both clans heeded the call, with Mayor Sinsuat and Abas with their respective adult family members. The meeting was held first at a waiting shed, where Col. Halcon appealed for truce.
And the truce gained foot hold because the families had since refrained from shooting one another to date.
Bloody skirmishes among MILF and MNLF field groups
In the then undivided Datu Piang town in Maguindanao, field groups of the MILF and the MNLF figured in intermittent armed skirmishes. Similarly, their bloody fights became a running story in the local and national media.
After almost three weeks of sporadic armed clashes, then Vice Governor Norodin Matalam was interviewed by me, Blah and Roy Sinfuego (of Manila Bulletin then) at his office in Sultan Kudarat town. After the brief interview, we persuaded Matalam to accompany us to Datu Piang for us to get the pulse of affected rural people. He heeded the request.
Along the narrow road of Lower Salbo in Datu Piang town, our convoy of vehicles was forced to stop as the warring revolutionary groups resumed their trade of bullets. While taking safety covers, we witnessed men falling down on both sides of the road for over two hours. I took time to take photos using a zoom lens.
As stray dogs started to approach the cadavers, which we estimated to be over two dozens, Roy Sinfuego took off his white shirt and attached it to a long bamboo stick. He asked me to join him in standing visibly at the middle of road and floating the white makeshift flag to gain the attention of both camps.
The daredevil act paid off. Both camps stopped firing guns. And we yelled to tell the protagonists that dogs were about to devour the cadavers. After few seconds, unarmed men emerged from both sides of the road and took the bodies of their respective fallen comrades.
By the grace of God, both warring groups retreated to different directions, bringing corpses. We, too, sped back to Cotabato City, with Matalam almost cursing us for our act. He named me “kumander Ugis.” Ugis is a Visayan term for white. And Matalam coined the tag out of the makeshift white flag. AGM