Friday, February 18, 2011

Philippines: Attacks on journalists continue in wake of second work-related killing

Sources: International Freedom of Expression Exchange and Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

Just days after the 24 January 2011 killing of Palawan-based radio broadcaster Gerardo Ortega, several attacks against journalists occurred in different parts of the Philippines.

In Iloilo, a publisher-editor of the community newspaper "The Daily Guardian" suffered a head injury when he was attacked on the evening of 26 January. Lemuel Fernandez was about to get inside his car in front of his newspaper's office when an unidentified man hit him from behind with a blunt object. Iloilo is a province approximately 467 kilometers from Manila.

Local police told the Manila-based newspaper "Philippine Daily Inquirer" on 28 January that the attack on Fernandez may have been work-related.

"His (Fernandez's) newspaper tackles very sensitive issues and it is not a remote (possibility) that they would have aggrieved some people," Western Visayas Regional Police Director Chief Supt. Cipriano Querol told "The Daily Guardian" on 5 February. Querol has ordered the creation of a task force to investigate the incident.

In the same article, Fernandez said he saw the still unidentified attacker and another man seemingly waiting for someone in front of his newspaper's office that night.

In a separate incident in Metro Manila, local police allegedly tried to prohibit members of an alternative media group from covering a demolition in Barangay (Village) Corazon de Jesus in the city of San Juan on 26 January.

Lady Ann Salem and Godson Escopete, members of Tudla Productions Group Inc., were taking video footage of the negotiations between village leaders and the demolition team when a policeman demanded that they leave the premises. Tudla is an alternative film and media collective based in Manila.

"You are saying you're from the media but you are also part of the community," the policeman allegedly told Salem and Escopete.

In a 27 January interview with CMFR, Salem said the police insisted that they leave despite the journalists showing them their press IDs. One of the policemen even belittled their equipment, Salem said.

Prior to the 26 January incident, police had arrested Escopete on 25 January while he was taking footage at the site, thinking that he was one of the residents refusing to leave the contested land. Police released him 30 minutes after colleagues confirmed that he was a member of the media.

The demolition turned violent on 25 January as police and informal settlers clashed in a confrontation in Barangay Corazon de Jesus in San Juan City. The government of San Juan City has chosen the contested land, which houses at least 50 families, as the site for its new city hall. At least 40 individuals were reported hurt. President Benigno Aquino III immediately ordered an investigation of the incident.

Meanwhile, a General Santos City-based radio station recently received threats allegedly for its continuous and scathing comments against the proliferation of an illegal numbers game ("Last Two") in the city. General Santos City is approximately 1,049 kilometers from Manila.

Popular in the southern Philippines, "Last Two" is a number guessing game based on the lottery results of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Anchor Jordan Britos received the threat on the station's mobile hotline while hosting his show "RMN Balita: At Your Service", on 24 January. The message read, "You might suffer the same fate as slain Dennis Cuesta". RMN program director Cuesta was killed on 4 August 2008 in General Santos City. The alleged gunman, Police Inspector Redempto Acharon, is still at large.

In a 27 January "Inquirer" report, another program host at RMN-General Santos City, Bong Gonzales, said that the management has advised its reporters to temporarily stop on-air discussion of "Last Two".

A total of 119 journalists have been killed in the line of the duty in the Philippines since 1986. Two journalists have been killed in the line of duty during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III. The most recent was the killing of broadcaster Gerry Ortega in Palawan province on 24 January.