Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Fit for the morgue

Fit for the morgue

Updated 11:19pm (Mla time) Nov 02, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on Page A15 of the November 3, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

OBITUARIES in British newspapers and magazines are a delight to read. In the Philippines, we are only supplied with pertinent information: name, date of birth, date of death, age at time of death, place where wake is held, date and time of interment. Our obituaries are often paid advertisements, unlike special sections in a British paper that provide more background. For example, obituaries in The Economist are so well researched and written I wonder if there is a special breed of journalists who specialize in obituaries.

Well, the word "morgue" has two meanings. It can be either a place for the dead -- a mortuary -- or a place where old newspapers are kept. The Oxford English dictionary defines the morgue in a newspaper office as "a room or file of miscellaneous information, especially for future obituaries."

As a historian, my favorite morgue is found in the air-conditioned basement of the Lopez Memorial Museum that houses the pre-martial law Manila Times, its evening paper the Daily Mirror and of course the Lopez-owned Manila Chronicle. Here one can browse through bound issues of the whole newspaper or go through shelves, from floor to ceiling, filled with brown envelopes filed alphabetically according to name and subject. I have often gone there to search for biographical data and, along the way, came upon material I was not originally looking for. Thus, my files are filled with photocopies from the Lopez Museum morgue and they do provide an assortment of useless information.

Recently I dug up clippings on kissing. It will amuse opponents of the Movies and Television Rating and Classification Board (MTRCB) by recounting that in 1966, Indian censorship rules permitted on-screen kissing in imported Western films but not locally produced Indian films. In recent years, Filipino filmmakers have asked why the MTRCB was more lax with Western films than our own. Well, Indian Information Minister Raj Bahadur explained: "We regard sex as something sacred. Kissing between husband and wife in the West is more of a ritual. To the average Indian it is sanctimonious -- to be done in private."

Reading the past really provides some context to the present.

Now, on to some local news. On June 14, 1966, this was reported from Hagonoy town in the province of Bulacan, north of Manila:

"A youth was locked up inside the Marilao Municipal Jail last night for stealing a kiss from a 19-year-old girl. Juanito Viernes, 24, of barrio Saog, Marilao, went last night to the house of Purificacion Mendoza in the barrio and allegedly took advantage of the darkness and the fact that the girl was alone in the house.

"Purificacion said later that while she was brushing her teeth near the kitchen, Viernes stole from behind her, embraced her and kissed her. They fell on the floor and the girl shouted for help. Her parents who were at a neighbor's house, rushed home and separated them.

"The girl told police that Viernes had not even courting (sic) her and that she was surprised by his action. He was detained in jail for failure to post bail of P3,000, fixed for his temporary release by municipal Judge Jose de Leon of Marilao."

The names alone really sound ancient and the style of reporting is different from the crime stories we read today. Yet stolen kisses, rape and other forms of harassment continue to our time.

One also sees from the newspaper reports how arbitrary the courts were in these cases. For example, the accused above was made to post P3,000 bail, which was a lot of money for a barrio boy in those days. Yet in another kissing case in December 1963, only P200 was required of a 33-year-old man who kissed a 14-year-old girl in the lips against her will. Now the latter is a more serious case, but why was the amount of bail so much lower? Perhaps this has something to do with the complaint filed.

As a layman, I cannot tell the difference between unjust vexation, acts of lasciviousness and sexual harassment. This is something best left to our fellow columnist retired Justice Isagani Cruz.

All the clippings on kissing came from the Daily Mirror that gives us a hint on editorial bent. The only photographs to accompany these stories appeared on June 19, 1965 in a story bannered "Kissing Bandits!" The top photo showed Consorcia Martinez Baniqued, a 28-year-old vendor, pointing to Toriano de la Cruz, a 28-year-old clerk who embraced her inside a jeepney in Quezon City and committed acts of lasciviousness on her (whatever that means). More interesting was another photograph. In handcuffs was Jaime Condino Gonzaga, a companion of De la Cruz who had a license to kiss in his pocket. This was reproduced in the paper and read:

"Department of Test and Survey. Department of Matrimony. Manila, Philippines. This is to certify that Jaime C. Gonzaga, whose signature appears below, is hereby licensed to hug and kiss any one of the opposite sex at any place within the Philippines. This kissing license is valid for a period of one year from April 14, 1965 to April 14, 1966." The card was signed by a director whose name was not spelled out. This wasn't necessary since there was no Department of Matrimony in the Philippines anyway.

Journalism is supposed to be history in a hurry. Now all these crazy news stories are part of history and are best left to rest in the newspaper morgue.


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