This column of mine

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - July 18, 2016 - 12:00am

I will go a little light and personal this time with this column to give this old fella a break. Today is the anniversary of The Freeman and I have been writing mostly serious stuff here since I was first asked to write a column back in 1982 by my editor then, Juanito Jabat. I can still remember that first piece. It came out on December 8 of that year, just a month since I joined the paper as a reporter.

For lack of a better idea, I first wrote a column under the hastily crafted name Human Writes, which sounds so corny now, I must admit. I was probably inspired by the title of a collection of John Lennon writings which the late Beatle called "In His Own Write." Anyway, my first article was about snatchings inside churches. It probably was no coincidence that the article came out on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

More than my work as a reporter, whatever name I may have made for myself in journalism probably came as a result of my columns, which dealt mainly with politics, always a favorite read for Filipinos. I did spice my writings every now and then with things about daily life. But it was in politics that I found my staple, especially since Marcos was always such a hot copy in the early 1980s.

People described my writings as hard-hitting. I did not see it that way. I am not that brave a person to be hard-hitting. But I always told it the way I saw it. Maybe that was what people meant but just could not put a finger to it. Anyway, all this "hard-hitting" stuff came to an abrupt but temporary end in the late 1980s when my family went through a very difficult time.

A daughter of mine came down with leukemia and aside from the obvious difficulties, the cost proved too heavy to bear alone. So a fund campaign was initiated by The Freeman, and while my daughter eventually lost her battle, I was truly heartened by the number of people who responded. Many of those who came to help did not identify themselves and it occurred to me – what if some of them were among those hit by my "hard-hitting" columns?

Just the thought of "hitting" those who came to help made me lose my appetite for writing a column. And so I signed off for a while. It was not until I finally got over my daughter's passing, and pressure mounted from Mr. Jabat for me to resume writing (because, as he said, he needed to sell the paper, ha ha) that I relented. The reincarnation of this column, however, came under a new name – the present one you see with my name and mugshot.

In the 30-plus years of this column's existence, it has never won an award. Maybe it never measures up to the high standards set by award-giving bodies. Maybe, too, it is because I never apply nor submit any samples. I just do not see why I should be judged on the basis of a few "good samples" when I write for an entire year. I believe that for a writer to be judged fairly, his entire body of work, warts and all, for an entire award period/year should be monitored, not applied for.

But that is really no skin of my back. I monitor my own progress as a writer, with a lot of help from my wife, who ticks me off on how I am doing on Facebook and Twitter, since I myself am not on either. And while I cannot fully fathom and appreciate it, I know it must mean something really big when she begins to babble about me going viral with a thousand or two thousand or even more Shares, or Likes, or Retweets, whatever the heck she means by that.

Shares and Likes and Retweets give me a deep sense of importance even if my only inkling that something important must be going comes from the excitement of my wife, who breaks my sleep every now and then with a running count of "two thousand five hundred sixty Likes na," or "seven hundred forty-two Shares na." "Wala pay lain sa Cebu nakaabot niana," she would hasten to add. And I would just nod uncomprehendingly and fall right back to sleep.

Two instances truly made me feel gratified in what I do. One had been those occasions when people I do not know just siddle up to say "Oy, Mister Tundag, I always read your column." I always get tongue-tied during such encounters. The other was when USA Today picked up and featured a column of mine, along with another column from the Washington Post and an editorial from the Wall Street Journal. From out of thousands of columns on earth. Feeling lucky, I bought lotto. And lost.

Column-writing is instructive for both reader and writer. For example, I have learned that people who react to columns by way of nasty name-calling either did not get it, or cannot summon the argument to answer the points raised. I have reason to suspect they cannot sleep in anger and the thought of it puts a wicked smile on my lips. Other good columnists out there? Atty. Frank Malilong of Sunstar. I text him about a good column of his, and he texts me back about how good a column is mine.


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