I lost this year a most valued source – a veteran intelligence officer whom I met a lifetime ago, when I was a young reporter covering Camp Crame.
Boogie Mendoza died of a heart attack last March in his home province of Pangasinan, while I was finishing my Nieman fellowship at Harvard. The news of his sudden death came like a punch to my stomach, as I had just written a narrative on him for the non-fiction class I was taking in the Spring:
Behind an empty desk in a windowless room, he flips a Mongol pencil while his sturdy left hand softened by well-scrubbed nails brings out a yellow pad from a hidden drawer. I don’t talk to reporters, he says, eyes flat, cold as steel.
This is Boogie Mendoza, after all, the notorious intelligence agent, a captain in the Philippine military who has arrested dozens of communist leaders and sowed fatal intrigues in the underground rebel movement that’s been fighting Asia’s most stubborn insurgency. It was late 1989. He was at the prime of his career – a rising star, a power center in a camp run by generals who understood the war only through his eyes. I was 24. I hated the military, and I hated more my editor’s decision to assign me to cover it.
To the communists, Boogie was the agent who played with their heads if he was not busy plotting their arrest.
To this journalist who had known him for nearly 30 years, he was Camp Crame’s wiliest spinmeister who lived in two worlds: the fiction in his head that wanted to kill an ideology, and the reality of the streets that drove him to hunt down guerrillas.
He taught me to smell spin from miles away. He taught me to catch a lie through the twitch of an eye, the tone of a voice, the shift of big hips glued to a chair.
I trusted him completely. I distrusted him totally.
He’d dish out reams of fake documents for me to either gobble up or dismiss as one of his psy-war concoctions. He’d embellish a story of one arrest, adding more color and character, because this is an art to him – telling tales with the end in view of crushing a revolution.
Now why am I writing about him in a blog meant to introduce the newsletter I would be writing to Rappler readers every Tuesday?
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Beyond the spin, past the chatter
Because journalism’s business goes beyond writing stories. Especially in today’s world, we’re required to smell a PR stint from miles away and distill propaganda from facts before it reaches you.
We’re not always successful. But know that we try every single day.
Journalism is also about our complexities as human beings, a profession that immerses us in what drives a public servant, what motivates a business person, what makes a soldier endure, what makes a man call God stupid.
It is what I hope to talk to you about each Tuesday – going beyond the spin and past the chatter but also looking at characters through a nuanced lens, such as the likes of Boogie Mendoza who, in various times in his career, justified the means to what he felt was a noble end and who suffered for it. Quietly.
For in the end, we write stories not only because they need to be told but also because they help us see the world more clearly, and regard people in all their tangled lives. – Rappler.com