I’m not supposed to be here, but whatever cosmic or divine force it might be, I’m still alive. I am grateful for the gift of life, my second lease on life. We humans who ever walked this world are all just transient travelers, just passing by in a brief moment of borrowed time. Two years ago, I was on top of my game, dispatching news articles, photos and video clips for national and international news outfits.
I even had my first broadcast report for giant global television network BBC World news. I just arrived from a grueling 12-hour solo driving from my home city Davao to the embattled city of Marawi, also from southern part region of the Philippines, where the Islamist militants had just besieged.
I can’t be left behind to cover this huge news already blaring from all media platforms. Arriving at ground zero, as i would expect, my colleagues from different outfits were already thick on the coverage. Smoke billowing from almost everywhere, heavy exchange of gunfire, sniper shots ringing out, whizzing bullets passing over our heads. I saw foot soldiers, trailing behind an armored personnel carrier, as their only shield from the sniper’s fires while trying to go deep into the captured city, engaging the militants in a street by street heavy gun battle. I reckoned that was my best chance too, to get closer to the battle zone, so me and some of my media colleagues, thought it best to join the trail, with the soldiers taking cover behind the tank. At that juncture, I wasn’t thinking how dangerous it can be for us journalist, I guess the adrenaline rush kicking in your brain can do that to you–reckless and unmindful of one’s safety.
My memory was racing back, just a year prior to this Marawi seige I narrowly escaped a grenade explosion, barely few meters where I was standing. I was in the besieged city of Zamboanga that was attacked by a group of Moro rebels disgruntled with the government peace deal.
So I guess I was that rambunctious, thinking if i can survive that grenade blast, I can survive this conflict too.
I pushed myself to the extreme. We constantly travel day in and out of Marawi to nearby Iligan City, where it was safe for us to stay for the night. I hardly slept and ate and that routine turned from days into weeks until it came to be a month long. I was exhausted and stressed that took a toll on the body and soul, the emotional stress you carry with you from seeing and encountering traumatic events. But we journalists accustomed to this kind of news are like stress junkies ourselves, even bordering on being masochists. The more the pressure, the better. At every given chance, since time is what we lack, we gorge on cholesterol-laden food, not because we long for it, but there’s simply no choice, it’s the only available food served in the few remaining open food kiosks in Iligan City. We treated ourselves to some locally brewed beer over conversations on what transpired during the day. It was our coping mechanism, the only best thing we know how. It wasn’t binge drinking, just enough alcohol to quiet the troubled soul and weary mind.
I was weighing maybe 200 lbs, a morbidly obese guy, a friend once told me. I was a ticking time bomb, back then. I had since been trying to lose weight, but it was such a struggle. Back in home city I even bought myself a bicycle, a hobby I became fond of in my aim to stay fit. Then fortunately the email came, notifying me of my approved travel to Singapore for a three-month fellowship study with the Asia Journalism Fellowship. So I was thankful, this would give me a much needed break from the demanding work. To be continued