Declined Invitation

by Juan L. Mercado

“You’re  skipping   the  Philippine Press Institute’s  conference this June?” asked  Daily Guardian of Iloilo  editor Francis Allan Angelo.. “Why”?  Barring martial  law interruptions,  we’ve  attended  such gatherings  since 1964.

The  late publisher Joaquin  Roces then summoned me to his Manila Times office . “What do you know about  press institutes?,” Chino asked, twirling his trademark cigar.  “Nothing,” we replied. 

“Good.  Next week, you fly  to  Columbia University in New York.  At the American Press Institute there they’ll teach  you the ropes.  See us  when you get back.”

“Who is us?”,  we  asked before stepping out his office. “All of metropolitan  Manila publishers,”  Chino replied. ”We’ve agreed to set up a press institute.”

Of the PPI  founding members, Manila Chronicle’s Oscar Lopez  still  scales  mountains today.  But others  are now gone: Chino and his brother, Don Ramon Roces, Philippine News Service’s Osmundo Abad Santos  and Hans Menzi of Manila Bulletin. Philippines Herald Sebastian Ugarte died  in a plane crash off Sulu.

“Watching the Watchdog: Re-examining Ourselves” is  the theme of  PPI-Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism conference .  “We need to be critical of ourselves too,” says Malaya publisher and PPI chairman Amado “Jake” Macasaet. “There are those who corrupt and those being corrupted.” The theme sweeps in  survival of newspapers in  digital age.

“Quality of professional practice is poor,” says  PPI vice-chairman Vergel Santos.  The new  technology  opened the practice to ”people altogether untrained for it, not to mention clueless about it”.

“Journalism in the 21st  century is evolution not extinction,” Brian McNair wrote. The range  from old fashioned sleaze among family dynasties, brutal slaying of newsmen and hunger. “Plenty sits still. But hunger is a wanderer“.

These interlock with new challenges:  “Climategate” (sea levels are rising in a deforested Philippines),  the new biology, participatory culture and digital age communication. Those issues can wring the best of every journalist.

We’re in the youth of senility now.  Our knees creak. Time  brought   the bifocals, grey hair  and  stoop. And why did those stairs turn steep all of a sudden? Where’s  that walking cane that a Malaysian colleague gave when we retired from United Nations. Was that a century ago?

Instead, we stumbled across  an old “Senility Prayer”. It reads: “Grant me, Lord, the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, and the good fortune to run into the ones I do—and the eyesight to tell the difference.” Indeed, I  squint when reading this prayer or looking at computer screens.  

“When the eyes grow dim, / When the bones creak/ When the knees go bad/  I simply remember my favorite things/ And then I don’t feel so bad,” Julie Andrews sang on her 69th birthday to the tune of the “Sound of Music.”

President Bill Clinton calls us: “junior seniors.” We prefer the Washington Post’s euphemism of “almost old.” In 1978, Associated Press cobbled the phrase: “near elderly.”

When Bob Hope turned 78, he joked: “General Eisenhower said there are three stages of life: youth, maturity —  and ‘God, you look good’.”  Like Bob Hope, “I don’t feel old.” Like him, “I don’t feel anything until noon. Then it is time for a nap.”

Farmers in Guatemala have a proverb that says: “Everyone is the age of their hearts.” Oliver Wendell Holmes converted that axiom into a mathematical formula. “Old age,” he insisted, “is 15 years older than I am.” This jurist would sigh, when he saw young co-eds traipsing through Harvard yard: “Oh, to be 70 again.”

Nowadays, one discuss the challenge that  senatorial race topnotcher Grace Poe with less vehemence  than our next physical  therapy exercise. Our high school class Romeo confesses: “I can do without sex but not without glasses.” He adds wistfully: “Aging is for sissies.”

Our family doctor interjects, after every two explanatory paragraphs, with: “However, when you’re not so young anymore…”  Or “You have to adjust with the years.”

Eventually, all reach a point “when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it,” we’re told. When does that happen? When former classmates are so “gray, wrinkled and bald, they don’t recognize you.

We  belong to  a  fading generation whose numbers relentlessly dwindle with the years.  We wish  the young  journalists luck.  We  hope they’ll   never have to look, as we did, at the business end of a Japanese (or if the Scaraborough reef controversy intensifies, a Chinese) bayonet.

Some of our age-cohorts were slapped around by Makapilis or Filipino quislings. Still others were confronted with mass-produced martial law arrest warrants, bearing the signature of  then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile.

We’ve lived long enough to see—and cheer—the same Juan Ponce Enrile emerge as the steely principled chair of the Senate impeachment court.  But a seriously flawed memoir and the election trouncing of his son makes one wonder where JPE slump further from here?

“Seventy is the sum of our years,” the Psalmist  writes. “Eighty if we are strong.” That passage of time brings a gradual but stunning revelation:  In life, there is one unchanging constant. Without fail, “God’s love always rises before each dawn.”  We can only mumble: “Thank you.” That is all.

Many youngsters today still follow the Filipino custom of  “mano po” or kissing  hands of  elders. Whenever one reaches to “mano po” we hold back, recalling what King Lear told Gloucester: “Let me wipe it  first. It smells of mortality.”


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