(NOTE: When Stephen Omaois was murdered in cold-blood way back in 2004, the following article was written as my way of honoring him and his short-lived excellence in community journalism. The whole piece never saw print ever since the day it was written, out of my respect for his unheard-of cry for justice. Justice can’t be said to have been dealt satisfactorily, and those who are supposed to be serving incarceration time are having a good time out there in the safe streets of Tabuk. Therefore, Stephen’s story has to be heard again, lest he feels that he has been forgotten.)
Weak. Powerless. Drained of strength to cry in pain. So he clawed his way, desperately believing that it took him further away from his tormentors.
As soon as he got away, he told himself, he would head straight home – have a nice warm bath, and tuck himself for a good night’s rest. Deadline for his articles was a few days away anyway, so he had all the time to relax then. Hell, he might even come up with a good recount of this episode. He might even write about it in the first-person. But he brushed that prospect aside as he surmised it might even scare his mother. As he himself is scared now.
So Stephen kept on clawing his fingers through the muddy soil, almost digging, his tears not even bothering to roll down his cheeks as they dripped directly to the earth which his mouth was almost grazing.
And in that momentary silence when he thought that those behind him seemed to have gotten the satisfaction of seeing him writhe in pain and left, Stephen turned his face up, oblivious of the wounds and maniacal brutality that were earlier inflicted.
He squinted as he tried to make out the figure hovering over him in the darkness. And as it dawned upon him that the silhouette outlined his attacker in a ready-to-strike position, with a rock held in his hand, he didn’t even had the strength to close his eyes as the tightly gripped rock descended towards his skull.
As his last mortal breath escaped his lips, Stephen did not even have a last thought.
Thus ended the life of a budding journalistic gem.
Stephen Bas-ong Omaois (1980-2004) perfectly fitted the oft-used epitaph “Gone before his prime.” Only 24, he was still basking in his own existential limbo, trying to find out what he really wanted in life – looking at his foray into community journalism as a brief stopover towards that still unidentified career path – yet, in doing so, he was beginning to carve out a niche for himself, slowly and, in an unprecedented manner, earning attention from the intellectual and academic circles of his hometown where he wrote for the Guru Community Press of Tabuk.
His obviously tireless factory of high-minded prose was impressive, prompting readers reaching the end of his column to wonder what might be in store for them next issue. This, while still drifting in what he perceived to be a sea of uncertainty. This, while still mulling over what he could possibly become of.
But then there is no use in projecting a series of what-might-be’s, especially if the subject is dead.
Stephen is dead, and nature might not be so generous in giving Tabuk another young blood whose idealistic vehemence underscored every carefully worded line he wrote. The Guru community Press of Tabuk might never chance upon another goldmine who decided to dabble awhile in community development efforts. And for these, it suddenly becomes interesting to count achievers who excelled well in an activity done in dalliance.
As for the community of Tabuk – which has this staccato effort in establishing a privately owned press which has recently been given a new lease on life by the visionary Wangdali family (whose Guru Paper took the place of yet another Wangdali-owned paper which ran for a few issues several years back before it eventually folded) – the townspeople may only be now realizing the significance and prestige of having a truly alive print medium in their locale.
As papers from the different parts of the country ran Stephen’s story, Tabukeños got a glimpse into a strong network of journalists as one whole writing family.
Given the observation that the printed word is generally devoured by those in the higher rungs of the IQ ladder, Tabuk’s having a healthy press shows the country that there is, indeed, an intellectual community in this town. It is just sad to think that Guru’s setting the issue on whether or not Tabukeños do read has to be accomplished by way of losing one of its assets.
It is even sadder to think that it was in this asset’s death that some Tabukeños, for fear of being labeled un-informed or not-knowing, sat bolt upright and asked for previous issues of the Guru Press – as if their post-mature traverse through Stephen’s entries in his column would give them the “Eureka” moment that would shed light into the investigation, muddled already as it is by a number of people giving misleading information.
So, suddenly, the number of Stephen-impressed readers rose, belatedly stamping in the realization that there was a very promising writer in their midst (or that there is a good community paper circulated in their midst).
With the Natioanl Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) condemning Stephen’s slay, there is now a growing spiral of noise in this community, and depending on how one Tabukeño may look at it, his views may either land him on the group that insists the incident to be work-related, or on the group that says otherwise.
But then probing deeper into the murder would further amplify this spiral of noise, as the case clearly cuts into other sensitive issues like the stubborn propensity of gays to prowl alone at night; the high incidence of crime in this town which juggles law enforcers from one crime scene to another; police visibility; the ever-fierce guy-snatching drama among gays (which some investigators are zealously looking into, despite honest pronouncements of Stephen’s closest friends that he has never yet been involved romantically with, errr, another male – making him more of a night-prowler); and even the refusal of night spots to close during curfew hours.
Which brings us back all to the most easily arrived-at attempt in explaining Stephen’s death: it might have been work-related, giving heavier weight to the legitimacy of journalists’ complaint that, in the end, the pen is their ultimate snuff machine.
Yet again, for Stephen, this is a conjecture, and a hard one to prove at that because if his published outputs were used as a gauge, he had never yet authored an article that would have possibly irked “the powers-that-be.”
One thing is certain though. Stephen Omaois is the 13th journalist to be killed this year, more than doubling last year’s figure. And as the whole town of Tabuk awaits results from the police force – which, in all fairness, is seriously doing its job to nail the culprits – those of us from the world of writing can only hope that Stephen may not only end up as a number in a list.
For a person with a gift of syntax and semantics, his insertion as a mere entry into this year’s statistics of crime would be an aberration – and that is for lack of a more appropriate word.