Saturday, August 20, 2016

The rescue

SURROUNDED by a phalanx of reporters and recorders, Presidential Assistant Michael Dino presented an unenviable sight before and after the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) quarterly meeting.

But during the Aug. 18 meeting of the CCPC, where he was a guest, the Visayas alter ego of President Rodrigo Duterte mentioned a detail that made me curious.

He said that even before he has moved into his office at the MalacaƱang sa Sugbu, “half a sack” of letters is already awaiting.

I turned this fact over and over in my mind, wondering if I ever would receive such a bounty in my lifetime. When my boys—a husband and two sons—were younger, they wrote me letters, often with a drawing or two.

And then text and email came, followed by Hangouts and Facetime.

Also kept as keepsakes are the yellowed notes that a class presented me during one birthday. Now yellow and curling in a paper box covered with news articles, my students’ letters linger longer than the chocolate cake we shared.

Letters, of course, have different flavors. Mr. Dino implied that some of the letters may be divulging more names that may end up in a narcolist.

As a child, I woke up every morning to my late father’s favorite radio commentators reading aloud letters demanding official action. These were sent by “concerned citizens”.

The current War on Drugs and the lengthening “Kill List” stain the civic letter-writing of old with a repute that puts it more in league with medieval plots, wily whispers, and Judas kisses.

More than political vagaries, technology accounts for the dramatic decline of letters. Reading the missives drafted by students for news sources, I am appalled at times to discover how the curtness, informality and self-entitlement of instant messaging and Tweets have turned the letter into a Frankenstein creation of mismatched intentions and expression.

So Education Secretary Leonor Briones’s decision to continue the “Salamat Po (Thank You) Letter Writing Project” on its fourth year should be celebrated by all those who believe there is more to communication than composing and reading “Wer U :-)”.

The Department of Education (DepEd) and the Philippine Postal Corp. (Philpost) will award P50,000 to a student who mails at any post office a handwritten letter to any person he or she is grateful to.

Written in Filipino or English and using the proper format, every letter sent locally entitles the student to a raffle coupon. If sent abroad, the letter writer receives two raffle tickets.

Prizes of P10,000 will be given to students, as well as to their teachers and schools, in the semi-grand draw on Mar. 15, 2017. The grand winner will be announced on April 2017, also the Philpost anniversary.

I would have preferred that the contest involves reading and selecting the winning letters. Other stakeholders have to take up the slack to get more than the luck of the draw to restore the lost art of writing letters.

For instance, will newsrooms recognize the most unforgettable letters written by the public? Do editors still print a letter that’s handwritten? Who has the patience to untangle penmanship?

Letter-writing, penmanship—what else is for the rescue?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 21, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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