I have seen death up close over more than a quarter of a century as a reporter – from freshly-killed beings (like the victims of the Bulibuli and Mayagma massacre) to newly-brought dead from ambushes (like Army Major David who was killed by New People’s Army rebels, his head blown off with a finishing shot), to those whose bodies were blown to bits and pieces (like a trisikad driver who slammed a sack of black powder on the street, the resulting explosion sending his torso hanging on a tree branch), and to suffocated fire victims whose burnt bodies smell like roasted pigs (like those in the All Souls Day fire in Village 18).
Seeing death and facing death is a reporter’s occupational hazard that takes a toll on the mind and spirit.
It is guaranteed that a reporter will see death.
Or face it.
Death is a risk a reporter can face only on his or her own, the resulting trauma an offshoot only he or she can face even if friends assure one they are there to help.
Last week, Archie Artieda, a teacher, a friend died.
He was young.
Only in his early 20s.
In his prime.
Archie was one of those Communication students who would come to our house and talk to me about journalism.
And a bit about life.
We were never close.
He usually comes alone when he wants to ask questions about theories and concepts.
Quiet, softspoken, gentle, he would avoid asking questions when he is with other students but when he comes alone, he asks profound ones.
In one of our conversations about journalism, when I was half-boasting about my experience, he asked me: “so, sir kon wala ka na gasulat journalist ka pa gyapon (sir, if you don’t write anymore, are you still a journalist?)”
I was about two years without a job then after I had a stroke and that question struck me in a way that was both profound and life changing.
I realized I was holding on to what I thought was a glorious past.
That was all I had but I was not a journalist anymore for journalism is both a craft and practice.
Lose the practice and you lose the title.
Journalism requires the exactitude of science but can also develop into art that varies from practitioner to practitioner.
But we never talked about big things. Archie chose to talk about details. Nuances.
Archie did not practice his degree. He went back to Iloilo City and became a teacher.
We met two months ago when he moderated a webinar for his masteral class during which I was a resource speaker.
He promised to see me when he can come to Bacolod if travel restrictions are lifted.
It was not to be.
Last week, some of his close friends told us he died, cause largely unknown.
I have seen a lot of death lately but none surprised me.
Archie Artieda died last week and his death came as a surprise.
He was young and the world was his for the taking but perhaps that is how things are now.
If he had not asked me that question perhaps I would not have roused myself to leaving my storied past.
Thank you, Archie.