Thursday, June 08, 2006

Can you hear the drums, Fernando?

- Bandillo ng Palawan Editorial for the May 29 - June 4, 2006 issue

He may not have realized it, but the opening line of his signature song was a fitting description for the unseen hand that seemed to guide Fernando "Dong" Batul as he travelled on the road to fame and glory.

Unlike most of us, he heard the beat of a different drummer and followed the path to righteousness instead of riches. And yes, unlike most of us who will probably live long but wasted lives on petty pursuits, he stayed all too briefly on this earth but lived a full life, touching the hearts of many people who will cherish his memory forever.

Indeed, as his celebratory song for taking the number 1 spot on local radio says, this is the moment of truth for the people of Puerto Princesa. The assassination of Dong Batul says it all: we are no longer safe in this city. Our laidback lifestyles and complacency amid the political strife and rampant government corruption have become things of the past. Many of us in the local media have started walking around in groups and lessening our nocturnal activities, in case bad people are lurking out there in the dark. We have heard locals expressing fear of wearing "Justice for Dong Batul" T-shirts, lest they be marked as dissenters. The consensus seems to be that there are evil forces in our midst, operating even in broad daylight, who are out to stifle the voice of truth.

Why have we come to this?

As we all know, Dong Batul was not the first hard-hitting radio commentator in Puerto Princesa. There have been others before him, and most of them were even more bombastic in their tirades.

Perhaps, the difference is that Dong Batul has clearly grown and matured as a force to reckon with in the local media. We have heard how he handles interviews, with opposing parties being given equal airtime on his program. We have seen him deftly ask probing questions for news sources that new reporters could not quite handle yet. Increasingly, he was teaching DYPR's reporting team how to be quick on the draw, and many have started making witty repartees that could tickle the fancy of their listeners. If he had lived longer, his power and influence among the masses could only grow, and would once again become a threat to Puerto Princesa's rulers like what happened in the past.

Another major difference, of course, is that Dong Batul's integrity and fearlessness never wavered. Others in the past may have been brave, but their reputations were questionable. Those whose integrity were unsullied, meanwhile, could not handle the scare tactics of onion-skinned politicians so they soon backed out.

Dong Batul was different. He was a brave soul to the very end. Many of those who had followed his career often feared for his life, but like many Palawe├▒os, we never really believed the threats against him would be carried out. We believed too much in the myth of a peaceful city, its cool breezes blowing away any doubt that a bloody crime could occur in the very heart of the urban center.

But as the song goes, the moment of truth has finally dawned on us. In contrast to Dong Batul's bravery, the painful truth we must acknowledge is that his enemies are a bunch of cowards. Dong Batul travelled alone on his quest for truth and justice, but his enemies travel in packs surrounded by guns. Dong Batul was not afraid to speak out and show his true colors, but his enemies are hiding behind a layer of lies and orchestrated moves that they hope will confuse the grieving public.

Now that the drums of heaven have called out his name, Dong Batul is leaving us to confront our fears as we strive for a better quality of life in a peaceful community. It is up to us to continue his legacy, and pursue the moment of truth that the killers of Dong Batul will surely have to face in the end.

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