MEDIA people working hard and trying to make both ends meet through honest to goodness means are always exposed to danger.
My near death experience as a struggling newsman looking for advertisers to sustain a fledgling newspaper was a case in point.
As publisher of three-month old Iloilo Today, I went to Manila to collect from national advertisers 11 years ago. At around 6:15 o’clock in the morning on July 20, 2000, my encounter with three robbers in Quiapo, Manila nearly landed me in hospital if not in cemetery.
While walking in the Quiapo sidewalk from Sampaloc on my way to take a passenger jeep going to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) in Roxas Boulevard, an unidentified male approached on my left side and asked, “Anong oras na?” (What time is it now?) I stopped and checked my watch; and before I could finish saying “6:15 am,” a blunt object landed hard on my head on the upper right ear.
Shocked and visibly shaken, I turned my head to check who did it and saw a male holding a dos-por-dos (wooden bat) and was preparing to swing another blow. My instinct and quick decision to defend myself quelled the second attack.
As a left handed (the attacker was on my right side), I had a perfect latitude when I uncorked a left hook that hit the ruffian smack on the chin and sent him down the pavement pants first.
As I watched him crawl back on his feet attempting to grab the dos-por-dos he had dropped, another set of fist blows this time coming from the one who asked me the time, peppered my left ear, neck and head plus a kick in the body.
This time, I was unable to defend myself as my right hand was clutching a blue plastic envelop containing important documents and statements of account. I saw stars and my sight ebbed.
The man on the floor was now up and holding the bat like a baseball player. Blood dripping from wound on my upper right ear, I dropped the plastic envelop. On wobbly legs, I tried to intimidate the thugs by raising both my clinched fists to signify willingness to mix it up. Then I heard the bogus baseball player shouting at his cohort on my left side now holding a knife, “Saksakin mo na” (Stab him now). I immediately backtracked to avoid the knife-wielding hooligan who shouted back, “Nakuha mo na?” (Were you able to take it?). The bat boy responded “Andito na” (Yes, I got it). They then ran away. I checked my belongings; my cellular phone missing in my waist, the severed case still hanging on my belt.
I ran towards the direction of the fleeing hoodlums, not to take back my cellular phone, but to save my plastic envelop, my only treasure, which had been flown away after one of them kicked it as they fled.
Thinking I was trying to put up an empty bravado, a third man appeared with his right hand inside the pocket of his jeans (was he carrying a gun or only bluffing?). I stopped and desperately watched my plastic envelop on the floor, near the feet of the third assailant. It was like a film shooting.
Never mind my cellular phone. Never mind the wound on my head. Never mind the blood. Please, Lord, protect my plastic envelop; that’s the only reason why I am here in Manila. I haven’t paid our bills in the printing press yet; I will lose face if I return in Iloilo empty handed without any collection. I was willing to receive another blow in exchange for that precious plastic envelop, our bread and butter.
God probably heard my prayers. When the third bad guy left, I dived into my plastic envelop and held it tightly like a mother cuddling her baby. Nothing can separate us now.
While this brutality was taking place, sidewalk vendors and passersby pretended they saw and heard nothing. There were no cops. No tanods. It was worst than a jungle; survival of the fittest. It was near the intersection of Recto-Quezon Avenue.
Before proceeding to a police sub-station, I walked and sat on my plastic envelop in one corner to attend to my wound using a handkerchief. Wet and exhausted, I felt pain all over and hunger. I ordered rice lugaw in the sidewalk.
At the police sub-station, the investigator was indignant and sympathetic. “Put..ng ina ang dami na nilang nabiktima dyan a(SOB, they have already victimized so many people in that area),” he thundered.
Two patrol cops checked my wound and gave first aid. They then invited me to join them in scouring the area for possible hot pursuit. I refused for lack of time.
I reported the matter over the phone to my late friend, former congressman Art Borjal, who was columnist of the Philippine Star. He invited me to his office in Quezon City to confirm the veracity of my story. When he saw my wound and the severed cellular phone case hanging on my belt, he angrily quipped, “Mabuti na lang hindi ka tinuloyan ng mga hayop na yun” (It’s good those animals didn’t kill you).
When you meet journalists on the road, don’t hurt them. They may be looking for food on the table to feed their families while scrambling to get news to beat the deadline.