I was 14 when I started to love writing people’s stories. It was exactly when we were tasked by our Feature Writing coach to interview any personality in school over lunch and submit an article on the same afternoon. Others interviewed the principal, department heads, and some teachers. That left me feeling I had no one else to write about. But I was wrong. That day, I wrote a story of a simple, middle-aged worker who I saw cementing a roadside waterway outside the campus. The man named Rico only had two hands and a leg to work with.
Come the submission of the article, it turned out that we all wrote equally important stories, but mine was the one with a testimony telling that a personality could be just anyone, as everybody has a story to tell.
When you say you can write about anyone or anything, it can be directly explained by Nick Joaquin’s dictum, “There are no bakya topics, only bakya writers”. This is the same belief writer Erwin Romulo takes by heart, who has also written countless human interest articles, especially during his founding years at Esquire Philippines.
I can tell that it takes a courageous heart to write, more so to tell a life you did not live, of a person you do not completely know. Even Joaquin himself knew the challenge after being dubbed as “bakya writer” after writing an essay about Nora Aunor who had numerous issues at that time. The same goes with Romulo who wrote in his last Esquire editor’s note, “They can say we failed a lot of times, but they can’t say we weren’t fearless.”
My point is that although there is fulfillment in writing these stories, what’s more is the fear of not giving justice to the owner of the story. You can only give so much for your article, but never absolutely enough. I would daresay that the doubt will haunt you for all eternity. People stories are never bakya topics.
To recall, I had a great chance to ask current Esquire Editor-in-Chief Kristine Fonacier about this matter at a journalism seminar held by The HERALDO FILIPINO (HF) earlier this year. She began telling us that on your part as a writer, it will never feel enough, but at some point it has to be—not necessarily because you wanted to—but because it should be. Deadlines, measures, compliance—all of these are needed to be published. “But the best part of what you wrote,” she said with conviction, “cannot be seen on the paper.” The best part will always be the experience, memory, and learning you had as you pursued your subject.
Now it all trickles down to argue that it’s hard trying not to be a bakya writer after all, given the pressure that writers can always turn any narrative into a golden write-up. But no matter what, I will always seek to write these kinds of stories and encourage others to do so. For what it’s worth, one story always speaks for a whole.
The intervention is the social responsibility, especially by the writers, to recognize the stories of the people in the local. The triumph, the failure, the pleasure, the struggles—to celebrate their victories and support them throughout their fights to serve as both reflection and inspiration.
One story always speaks for a whole.
I am beyond happy that in HF, writers have continued to focus on writing about individuals, groups, and even communities. For with those stories, we have encountered and shared real struggles that hurt both heart and stomach, and real battles that fuel both drive and dream.
I hope this will be taken to heart by everyone: listen to people.