eK! is electronic Kabalen, a web-exclusive Kapampangan journal of ideas

elmer gozun cato
elmer g cato IT WAS an invitation I could not refuse. The email actually went unopened in my inbox for several days as I thought it was just another e-vite to one of the usual parties that take place here in New York when the year approaches its end. I was just about to consign the email to the recycle bin when for one reason or another I decided to give the sender the perfunctory courtesy.

As it turned out, the email came from a very dear friend—the poet-novelist-artist-journalist Titus Toledo. It was actually a follow up email reminding me of his invitation for me to write for eK!, which he explained in a way only he could as a web-exclusive journal of Kapampangan ideas, a logbook of sorts of mental transactions open to everyone and anyone who cares to inquire into the Kapampangan state of mind.

The invitation came with a deadline I knew I could not meet. I have never been good with deadlines. Worse, I have not written anything of late that Kapampangan readers may find worth their while reading. It has been almost eight years since I left journalism to embark on a new career in the Foreign Service and I must confess that the words no longer flow out of me like they used to.

Titus and I, of course, go a long way back. We went to the same school, grew up in the same Angeles neighborhood, and even came to fight the same causes together. Along with me, Jay Sangil and Francis Sison, Titus was a member of our so-called Gang of Four, who in the halcyon days of our youth attempted to redefine Pampanga journalism with the experiment called The Angeles Sun.

Titus and I were also together for quite a while in K, the Kapampangan Magazine which I published sometime after my return from a year-long sojourn in Jakarta,Indonesia, in 1998 until I left the country again in 2003 for my first diplomatic assignment as a member of the Philippine Delegation to the United Nations here in New York.

Since joining the Department of Foreign Affairs, I have written very little of public interest and the few journalistic pieces that I came out with were published in K some years back. Most of what I have been writing about in the past several years is pure bureaucratese—a bottomless sea of official reports and memoranda that we government factotums always find ourselves drowning in.

But in all the years that I have been out of circulation, I always carried this desire to return to journalism in one form or another. I envy my contemporaries—Bong Lacson, Ding Cervantes, Tonette Orejas, and even the more senior Ram Mercado—who are just so prolific their works are more than enough to fill the pages of several books about our province and our people.

Before Titus's invite, I was seriously considering coming up with a blog about my experiences past and present, in the Philippines and elsewhere. I also entertained the idea of writing several books of my own, including an account of my adventures and misadventures as a journalist during those days of disquiet and discontent and one or two coffee-table books festooned with the photographs I captured of that bygone era.

All these ideas, unfortunately, remain on the drawing board of my mind as I somehow could not compel myself to start the process of putting my thoughts on paper. I am some sort of a writer lost in New York, suffering from the effects of a jetlag that I have been trying to shake off for the past three years.

I keep telling myself that if I were to find my way out of this literary imbroglio and start writing again, it would not only have to be at the right place and the right time but also with the right hardware. I have actually lost count of the number of occasions I ascribed my failure to write to the lack of time supposedly due to the need to balance the demands of diplomatic work with those of the family.

And when I finally find the time, the onus would now be on finding a nice, quiet spot in our lilliputian apartment here in Queens where I could work. Yet, when I have both the time and the space, I think of some other reason to put off the writing. My last pretext was the need to replace the six-pound tablet PC I got last year precisely to get me to start writing simply because I now want a smaller, lightweight notebook that I could lug around.

I just never seem to run out of excuses. When I came across the electronic invitation from my kumpadre, the immediate reaction was to wriggle myself out of it in a diplomatic sort of way. My reply was an admixture of yes and no—something like "Of course, I would love to contribute to eK! and will submit my piece when I find the time to sit down and write." Titus is not someone who would take that for an answer.

Having the same December birth-sign as mine, Titus never had the makings of a diplomat but carries the traits of the persistent man that I am. He extended the deadline and told me in no uncertain terms that he wants to see my piece in eK!—or else. I guess I finally have run out of excuses.

Titus left me with no choice but to find myself a nice cozy corner at home, start to figure out what to write about and make full use of this tablet PC that up to now I am still planning to get rid of for something lighter.

Getting started is, of course, the most difficult part but I am convinced that once I do, the words will flow like they used to and there would be no turning back. There are just so many stories to tell, so many experiences to share. This is one opportunity to resurrect the writer I once was. So here I am with the introductory piece to what I hope would be the first of many that would eventually fill my blog and the pages of a book.

The ancient Chinese sage Lao Tzu once said a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I finally have taken that initial step. I now start a much-anticipated journey.

[About the author. Elmer Gozun Cato is a Kapampangan journalist turned diplomat known for his advocacy of responsible and responsive journalism in a media career that spans more than 15 years. He first made a name for himself in 1983 when as a 16-year old college freshman became a cub reporter for the crusading newspaper Ang Pahayagang Malaya during the martial law regime of former President Ferdinand Marcos. At 21, he became one of the youngest newspaper publishers in the Philippines when he founded the Angeles Sun in 1988. His journalist experience included stints as correspondent and desk editor in various local, national, regional, and international news organizations, including the Manila Chronicle, the Philippine Daily Globe, Reuters, and GMA News. In 1991, he became one of the first Kapampangan journalists to go overseas when he became a reporter for the Saudi Gazette in Jeddah. In 1997, he became Executive Editor of the Indonesian Observer in Jakarta. He later published K, the Kapampangan Magazine. In 1998, he joined the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) after placing eighth in the Foreign Service Officers Examination. He served in various capacities most prominent of which were as special assistant to two former Secretaries of Foreign Affairs—Domingo L. Siazon Jr. and Vice President Teofisto T. Guingona Jr.; as spokesman and later officer in charge of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement; and later as head of the Regional Consular Office of the DFA in Clark Field. He has been based in New York since 2003 where he serves as Second Secretary with the Philippine Mission to the United Nations.]

-Posted: 1:26 PM 1/6/07 | More of this author on eK!