Meeting Mr. President

After a hiatus of more than two months from being a reporter, I seemed to have lost my footing and it felt strange when we covered a press conference with the president of this island dubbed as the Rainbow’s End a couple of weeks ago.

There were already two reporters from the other two existing papers in Palau ahead of us. The President’s chief of staff asked for our business cards (that, and an email address are part of one’s existence in Palau) and briefed us on the agenda of the conference.

Training my ears to listen and focus and jotting down notes seemed to require too much effort but I sat poised with my pad and pen when the president came into the room. He got our business cards and welcomed us (Aurea and I being the latest addition to the small media family) and I said, Oh great, this is the president of the republic calling us by name! Then he murdered my surname. I should have gotten immune to it because in two straight weeks my surname has been murdered so many times from the medical certificates, plane ticket reservations, to the actual print on the plane ticket and other documents.

The desk clerk at the Continental ticketing office back in Makati was helpful enough to print out something to prove that the ticket was really purchased for me because it did not agree with my passport. I’m sure my grandfather would have turned over in his grave) and now here is the country’s leader pronouncing it minus the letter N (uh-oh talk about coconut shell)!

When a Philippine president visits Davao City, a media practitioner has to pre-register with the Philippine Information Agency who will issue an identification card to certify that you are a legitimate media. Even with the ID card, you can only enter the room where the press conference will be held after undergoing through a barrage of briefings and a series of security checks, body check and get through hordes of burly presidential security guards. Once past all these barriers, you can’t ask questions if you have not pre-registered and indicated what you will ask the president about.
In a span of two years, my tape recorder looked like it came from the hospital from the number of stickers stuck to it by the presidential security group every time President Gloria Arroyo came to Davao City.

What a difference from the Philippines. In this country of barely 20,000 people, everybody seems to know everybody and you get to meet the senators, congressmen (delegates) and the president and they will tap you on the shoulders like an old friend.

The rest of the senators sat down but alas, the session was in Palauan. It felt awkward to sit there and listen to a conference going on in a strange language. The president cracked jokes (maybe those were jokes because everybody who understands Palauan kept on laughing). I whispered to Au that we were helpless if they were talking about selling us as slaves (just kidding). What I did was to keep on looking at the different colorful flags of the 16 states of Palau, wondering who the designers were for such intricate work. I couldn’t memorize the names of the states. I couldn’t even read them but I was trying to kill the time.

When the session was finally over, the chief of staff asked us to come back at 2 pm for the interview with the president. We were to learn later that the president usually hold interviews with the media after the Palauan session but had a previous engagement hence the change in schedule.

So much for meeting Mr. President, better luck next Wednesday. We went back to the office with our notebooks still clean and without a story to write.

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