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Seriously speaking, my participation in school press conferences brought me to several dreamlands. I have been to some parts of Luzon, Visayas, and, recently, Mindanao. This time, those who greatly deserve to be given much credit for making HNU-HS become involved once again in the National Schools Press Conference were Grace Cielo Tumale (IV-St. Joan of Arc), Nestor Naparota, Jr., and Daryl Bernaldez (IV-St. Arnold).

It can be recalled that these three student-journalists would not have been able to be among the NSPC qualifiers without repulsing their respective rivals in the equally intensive and suspense-filled Division and Regional Schools Press Conferences. Cielo and Nestor ranked second in the RSPC News writing and Sports Writing respectively while Daryl was third in Photojournalism.

When we got hold of the official memo that the NSPC would be held in Koronadal, South Cotabato, we began to have apprehensions, knowing the different unpleasant accounts which were written, broadcast or spoken of about the area, and for this reason, we were obviously armlocked by the intruding power of fear. However, the feeling was just short-lived because the said powerful arm was thwarted and eventually pinned down into submission by our student-writers’ Herculean determination to join the NSPC.

They, as well as I, decided to be in the chosen site at any rate, and no threat of any form could stop us from leaving. After all, real journalists always crave to be in an area where the thrill, risks and actions are incredibly fresh or sizzling hot and spicy.

Per agreement with Tagbilaran City Division bigwigs, February 15 was the scheduled date for us to leave for our destination. In this case, we were given the chance to celebrate the deathless spirit of February 14 which is always literally a red letter day for people whose hearts have been overflowing with so much love…

Finally, we boarded the vessel bound for Cagayan before 7:00 p.m. After a few minutes, we started to sail, spending our nights in the high seas. We reached Cagayan soil in the early morning of Feb. 16. After taking our breakfast, we planned for our next move of setting foot in Koronadal South Cotabato which, geographically, miles and miles away from Cagayan.

To make our long distance land trip less difficult and not so burdensome, the Tagbilaran City delegation, in which we were part of, decided to take the V-hire. We started the travel about 9:00 a.m., passing from one town to another. Security was tight; thus, let me not forget to mention the kindness of the checkpoints stationed in the different strategic areas. Upon knowing that we were NSPC participants, they immediately gave us the “go” signal. Since we were first timers, our eyes feasted on the Mindanao views.

However, when we began to cross Tacurong highway, the V-hire conductor cautioned the driver. The conductor’s unexpected warning prompted some of us, especially my female companions, to pray the Holy Rosary. Perhaps, others kept on reciting the sorrowful mysteries.

We expressed a collective sigh of relief when we were informed that we were already in our billeting quarter which was the Notre Damme of Banga. Exhausted from the long trip, we filled our stomach with our very first Koronadal meal then spent our first night in the Augustinian Recollect-run school. The next day, Feb. 17, was a free day so we just spent it exploring the area.

Notre Damme of Banga is very much different from the secular schools I’ve visited. Though the building are sophisticated, the AR sisters have been able to preserve nature, making the school appear like a “learning institution in the jungle.” Because of this, I would say that the air we breathed was fresh.

We culminated our sight-seeing by attending a Holy Mass officiated by an Ilongo clergy. The dialect was not familiar, but we never lost concentration. After all, different languages will still mean one voice when it comes to worshipping the Creator.

Feb. 18, Monday, was scheduled for the grand opening of the NSPC ’08. Eventhough it rained cats and dogs, and the partakers getting wet, the said opening was the most colorful, the most creative and the most exciting. The different presentations showcased Mindanao cultures and traditions. It was also highlighted by the presence of Sec. Jesli Lapus, the Secretary of Education, who was introduced through an interpretative dance-drama. Further, the thousands in attendance rose from their seats when Sam Concepcion did his number in the program. The young student-writers must have known much about the guy, but for us who were born ahead of them, we could have rocked the whole Cotabato Sports Complex if the one being presented was our controversial idol Mr. Gabby Concepcion.

The night of February 18 was used for the necessary preparation for the journalistic tilt. Equipped with self-confidence, knowledge and high hopes, Cielo, Daryl and Nestor braved the challenge in their respective assignments the following days. Nevertheless, the bronze, silver and gold were too elusive for our contestants. The three, considering their effort, were visibly upset when the names of winners were proclaimed, but later, they were humble enough to accept the official result. They, indeed, gave their best but somehow their “best wasn’t good enough.”

Though frustrated, the delegation heads of Region 7 promised us a tour to Punta Isla, Lake Sebu the following day. Early morning of the next day, with swimsuits ready, the Region 7 delegates took the bus that would transport us from Notre Dame of Banga to where the resort is.

Fully loaded with much excitement, we reached the rendezvous only to find out that the green algae choked the helpless waters because of the presence of fish cages which housed different varieties of tilapia. In short, we couldn’t go wet and wild, otherwise, we would be caged as well.

Heavy-faced, we went back to our quarter and had our last night in Banga. While my roommates Mrs. Navidad Bagaipo, teacher-coach from DCPNHS, Mrs. Ma. Elena Mandin, teacher-coach from CVSCAFT, Bjorn Ebojo (DCPNHS), Mrs. Darlene Angelica Acedo, Gabrielle Marie Dayan (CVSCAFT), Mark Ed Decierdo (TCSHS) and the three HNU student-writers slept soundly, I became restless and sleepless, knowing that by the next morning, we had to say goodbye to the AR sisters, and “to Bohol we shall return.”

We started our trip back home in the early sunrise of Feb. 23. We arrived at Tacurong Bus Terminal at breakfast time. Then we negotiated for another bus which would shuttle our group to Cagayan de Oro City. We chose the Yellow Bus Transit. By noontime, we took our lunch in the Yellow Bus Transit’s sister terminal. Minutes later, Mark Ed, having finished his meal, went back to where the passenger bus was only to come back and inform me that he saw new faces inside the vehicle. Thinking that they were ordinary passengers, I told him that like us, they might as well were bound for Cagayan.

After lunch, we were back on the road. Barely fifteen minutes later, one of the new passengers seated behind me declared a hold-up, and in a split of a second, a gunshot was heard. One of the passengers got hit on his left chest and the bullet passed through his spinal column. The men who Mark Ed saw were no ordinary passengers but deadly robbers! They started to demand for our cell phones, wallets and other valuables. The scenario must be a real-life daytime nightmare. Caught by a surprise, everything was beyond our control. I, with the situation getting worse, began to think of the ways on how to save the students and myself of course. With the bandits aiming their guns at anybody, most of the passengers covered their heads for fear of becoming the next recipient of the next bullet courtesy of the robbers’ firearms. Suddenly, my trembling imagination drove me to reminisce a similar incident in the same place in which my late father was surrounded by more than 10 bad elements ready to strike anytime. However, he was able to save himself without a single scratch or bruise.

I was startled to witness once again the shocking situation when one of the robbers, who was a meter from my seat, pointed his gun to my head, thinking that I was a soldier. Merciful heavens! Of all passengers, why me? I was compelled to don a military uniform almost 20 years ago during my CMT/ROTC, and upon checking myself, I appeared more of a suicide bomber from an unidentified planet than a military man. But how can I convince this stranger that I am connected with HNU and not with AFP? I took a very deep breath when the robber’s attention was caught by Mrs. Bagaipo’s gold necklace. I thought I was out of the harm’s way but alas! After grabbing the jewelry, he aimed his gun again at my head. Looking at his eyes, I could see the savagery of a man who had lust to kill.

Listening to his last words for me, I could say that my life was just hanging by a thread, and that my “Mi Ultimo Adios” was only half an inch away. Terrified and in tears, Daryl who was seated near me told the guy, “Titser ko po sya!’ Sensing a very slim chance for survival, I mustered the last ounce of courage left in my system and said, “Excuse me! I’m a teacher!’ before he could blow up my head. At least if I die, I die giving an honest answer.

After I said those words, the five of them got off the bus, directed their steps to their get-away motorbikes and sped off to an unknown direction, leaving us still in panic, with one dead victim.

That ordeal guided me to another moment of reflection. The armed robbers might be successful in carting away our valuables but we still have our most precious gem-our life. Additionally, we can never say NO if Death drops in for a visit so we must always be prepared. And further, prayers still continue to work real magic. Without any doubt, my profession gave me my second life.

Finally, my family would like to thank the whole force of HNU, Cong. Edgar Chatto, Mr. and Mrs. Ebojo, Dr. dela Torre and Mr. and Mrs. Dayan for the concern and assistance.

If the school would still send me somewhere for the same purpose, I’m still willing to go not because I am as tough as nail but because the call is still in line with my duty. “Once A Teacher, Always A Teacher!”

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