AN opposition columnist labeled us “bratpack” when, on the second year of the Cory Aquino presidency, we wore black arm bands and stopped writing news stories from the Palace beat for three days.
We did not like the label at first. We were not brats. We simply wanted fair treatment in the coverage of the presidential beat. But the name stuck and we have come to take the label in a good way.
We earned the label for protesting what we considered as shabby treatment by the President and her military security. We did not like that the President was accommodating foreign journalists for interviews while we, the Malacañang Press Corps, did not have access to her except for a brief “ambush” interview in the morning when she stepped out of her car to the glass door of the Guesthouse, which was just about two meters long.
We spent hours in a little gazebo outside the Guesthouse, waiting for people who may have met with the President to come out so that we could “ambush” interview them.
Members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) were shoving us as if we were a herd that would do harm on the President. Some soldiers did not even care if they were hitting women on their breasts or faces.
On the few occasions in the early months that reporters, photographers and cameramen were allowed to get inside the Guesthouse for photo opportunities, there was the overzealous Palace staff Fritzie Aragon who sprayed air freshener in the presence of the “herd,” some of whom were sweating after hours of waiting at the gazebo.
Even on weekends we stayed there, hoping that then Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo would be gracious and kind enough to come out of the Guesthouse to give us stories or copies of executive orders the President had signed.
Those were difficult times. There were days we considered as “drought” because we hardly had any sensible stories to write, but there were more days when we had to pound at least 10 stories a day, mostly page one materials.
But after three days of just sitting under the century old Balete tree that we called Mr. Brown by the entrance to the main Palace or at the gazebo as the President and her coterie of security were passing by for meetings from one building to the other we thought better of our “boycott.”
We somehow got a few concessions. We could send a set of questions to the President every morning and we would get one word or one line answers which the spokesman could not elaborate on. We divided ourselves into groups that would draft the questions for each day of the week. And once a week, we had mini-press conferences with the President when we could ask any question under the sun. We did not agree to pre-screened questions. Once a month, there were full press conferences.
We had coordination meetings with the PSG officers led by then Col. Voltaire Gazmin and we were issued security IDs to distinguish us from the “parachute” journalists who were covering the beat only on occasions.
From then on, coverage of the Palace beat was less difficult. At least we got chances to talk directly to the President, and the presidential escorts were no longer shoving us like we were a herd.
The animosity between Palace officials and the reporters very slowly turned into some kind of goodwill, and when the President finished her term, she even invited us a few times to her home or treated us to lunch in restaurants. She would say a word or wave a hand when she would recognize us from a crowd when she was no longer President.
She even sent her specialty liver pate and proudly showed her paintings to some of us before she fell ill.
The relationship with some of her other executive officials also turned into friendship, and we would always reminisce with fondness all those difficult and somehow happy days.
So when we gathered again after at least 23 years, it was a rumble. As former presidential spokesman, legal adviser-turned senator Rene Saguisag upon learning about the “Bratpack grand reunion” on Araw ng Kagitingan last April 9, said he might have to cancel or cut short his meeting with the Pope, or was it the President, to be with us. That meant that it was an event he would not miss.
Then executive secretaries Franklin Drilon and Joker Arroyo, legal advisers Adolf Azcuna and Teodoro Locsin, press undersecretaries Danny Gozon, Ducky Paredes, Deedee Siytangco and Mila Alora, and former deputy executive secretary (later environment secretary) Jun Factoran did not have to think twice before committing to join the reunion initiated by then press secretary Buddy Gomez, who has been in town for a few weeks from Texas.
What would you expect when these big guys were gathered with the boisterous members of the Cory press corps in one room? Saying that it was fun was an understatement. It was an organized riot.
Every corner of the roof deck of The Senior Hub in Makati was occupied by small groups reminiscing the good old days and catching up after more than two decades of not seeing one another.
Our version of the “Macoy and Imeldific” sang a few songs that they used to perform during Christmas parties.
Most of us now occupy important positions in the news desks of the newspapers, television and radio networks.
Fr. Paul Marquez, who said the Thanksgiving Mass and in memory of our colleagues who had gone ahead of us, was right when he said in his homily that the scars we had from covering those seven coups d’etat against the first Aquino presidency had united us. He said he was fascinated to see us shrieking with excitement as the elevator door opened and somebody would come out.
I could not remember exactly how the newspaper column that branded us as “Bratpack” described the group, but I could vaguely recall that it was written with disdain.
The term was probably lifted from the Brat Pack, a name given to a group of young actors who frequently appeared together in teen-oriented coming-of-age films in the 1980s, counting Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson among others as core members.
Who would not want to be called a “Bratpack” with those names in the company? That is probably why those who covered the presidency after us also wanted to be called the Bratpack. It was a name that we initially disliked but have come to carry with fondness and pride.