We set the agenda

I am a bored journalist.

Every morning I report to work and I feel, well, bored. Well, I work for a national newspaper, so I just ring up my editor and say, "sir, nasa Batasan na ako, sir." I find a place to sit, fire up my phone, and file my first dispatch for the day.

Like in previous days, all members of the House of Representatives were at the Batasang Pambansa today, at work in drafting laws that, they say, will benefit all Filipinos.

I have a chat with my fellow reporters. They also have nothing of interest to report.

"Wala talaga?" I ask.

"Eh nagtatrabaho lang sila," one of my colleagues - a female, pretty one, I must add - said. "Wala. Mababait 'tong mga 'to. 'Ta mo, walang drama nung naging unconstitutional 'yung PDAF."

I finish my cigarette and try to enter the session hall. I see congressmen talking in a very civil manner.

I yawn.

Look, this government has done so well, haven't they? Absolutely no drama whatsoever. They just submit their bills, and those bills get voted through easily - almost unanimously, actually, without any question - and the president signs it, and it becomes law, and just like magic the Philippines is a better place. No question.

Now, that in itself is proper news. But it gets boring, not being able to ask the questions, not being able to dig up anything, because, my God, this government is so efficient!

I go back out and have another smoke. Someone else was there. I watched the guy pull out an unopened pack of cigarettes... and shove the whole thing down his mouth. I suddenly lost the urge to smoke.

"Bro, may tao kanina sa labas, sinubo ng buo yung yosi niya," I told another colleague, a guy my age.

"'Yung yosi?" he replied, obviously not believing me.

"'Yung buong pack, bro," I confirmed.

"Weh," he said. "'Di nga?"

"Oo, bro. Gusto mo, kunan ko pa ng video, eh."

"Kung totoo nga 'yun."

The next day, I showed him a video which I shot from my phone. The same guy, the same thing. He took out a pack of cigarettes and swallowed it whole. As in, he just shoved the whole thing into his mouth. No slicing, no dicing, no unpacking. Just shove, chew, chew, chew, swallow.

"Parang cobra, bro," he said.

"'Di ba?"

"Bro, anong brand ng yosi 'yun? Parang blue ba 'yun?"

"'Di ko alam, bro."

"Pakukukunan ko 'yan."

He works for a television network, by the way. We had a deal. He shoots clearer video, and I write about it in the newspaper. My editor is desperate for an interesting story, and I knew he'd say yes to this one. It ended up as a little item on the front page.

An unidentified employee at the House of Representatives was caught eating a whole, unwrapped pack of Mevius, formerly known as Mild Seven, cigarettes.

"'Di ba imported 'yang Mild Seven na 'yan?" my crush reporter asked.

"Oo daw."

"Grabe, imported na yosi, ningunguya lang."

"Dami niyang pera pambili 'nun, ah."

The next thing I know, the television networks have picked it up. The video my friend took has popped up on every evening news cast, and not as an "and finally" item, not the Marc Logan sort. Suddenly it's now a national news story. Everybody wants to know who the pack swallower is.

The employee who was caught on video swallowing a whole pack of cigarettes was identified as a senior staffer of an administration ally.

"Saan kaya galing 'yung yosi niya, ano?" my crush asks. "Baka mamaya sa PDAF pala galing 'yun."

I threw my still-lit cigarette away and called my editor. We might have an angle here.

I'll admit, I was really excited when I heard this. For the first time in a long time, I can feel the blood pulse in my veins! This is why I became a journalist! I mean, yeah, sure, reporting good news is something, but that is boring, hell boring. I became a journalist for the adventure!

The congressman, who employs a man caught swallowing a whole pack of cigarettes at the House of Representatives, denies that the cigarettes were paid for using public funds. "It's his personal funds," his spokesperson said in a statement.

"Pero ang tsismis," my crush said, "Pero siyempre obvious 'to, 'di ba? Pinagtatakpan lang raw ni congressman 'yung mama."

"Well, obvious nga siya," I answered.

"Smuggler raw si congressman ng sigarilyo. Sa kanila raw. Eh masyadong maraming yosi, tapos nalaman pa niyang mahilig gumanon 'yung mama, kaya ayun. Pinapakain sa kanya."

And suddenly the television networks picked that up. Everybody can't stop talking about it. The newscasters won't. The commentators won't. The armchair analysts won't. And, of course, the politicians won't.

I entered the session hall again and the place was noisy. Everybody was arguing with each other. "Bakit ka ba kumakampi sa sira ulo na 'yan?" is generally the line of that day. And they started fighting, sometimes literally - I mean brawls - and I watched from the press area and just grinned. This is what I set out to do. An adventure. A very interesting story. Good news is good, yes, but who wants that? What's there to talk about? What's there to stir the ordinary Filipino to take action, to get his blood boiling and his passions steaming?

I am no longer a bored journalist.

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