Words by Zea Ancheta
Shortly after the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists last November 2, journalists were once more threatened by a recent slew of attacks.
College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) national president Daryl Angelo Baybado claimed that even prior to the pandemic, the government was more dead set in fulfilling their “witch-hunts” over addressing the needs of the people.
“Even before the health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Duterte administration has been busy railroading its counter-insurgency efforts and witch-hunts towards deemed ‘dissenters’ rather than addressing the pressing demands of the people,” Baybado said, adding that newly placed policies such as the Terror Law have only made journalists vulnerable to harm.
The Guild explained that due to these attacks, the Philippines was seen as an “impunity hotbed,” with the nation being declared as the seventh worst country based on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) findings, in terms of prosecuting journalist-related killings.
“With a president who legitimizes and justifies the murders, rampant crackdown and red-tagging to members of the press has been normalized,” Baybado added.
Justice for Vir Maganes and Ronnie Villamor
The latest in such attacks took place November 14, last Saturday, when Ronnie Villamor, a 50-year-old pastor and local tabloid stringer, was killed in Milagros Town, Masbate, after s oldiers opened fire on him. This effectively made him the fourth journalist to be murdered in the province.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said that army troops led by Lieutenant Maydim Jomadil suspected Villamor as one of five armed men they were investigating after they fled from Brgy. Matanglad.
While authorities claimed that Villamor pulled a firearm, leading to him being shot dead, Villamor’s colleagues denied this and said that he went to Matanglad together with four surveyors from Legazpi City to cover a land dispute.
“A local journalist told NUJP that parties in land disputes often request media coverage for activities such as surveys, apparently believing journalists’ presence will prevent violence.” says NUJP. The colleagues added that the local police were informed by Villamor and the surveyors of the purpose of their presence in the barangay.
They reportedly called the local police for assistance when they were blocked by a group of soldiers and then shots were fired.
“It was at that moment that several gunfires (sic) were heard,” Villamor’s colleagues said.
Four days before Villamor’s death saw the murder of 62-year-old Northern Watch columnist, dwPR radio commentator, and NUJP member Virgilio “Vir” Maganes last November 10, at 6:30 AM. Motorcycle-riding gunmen were reported to have shot him dead in front of his home in Villasis, Pangasinan.
According to NUJP, Maganes was killed immediately from a shot to the head, one of six shots fired at him by the killers.
The union added that this was not Maganes’ first brush with death, as in November 8, 2016, he initially survived an attempt on his life by playing dead, after another group of gunmen on a motorcycle fired at him while riding a tricycle. A sign that read “drug pusher huwag pamarisan” was spotted near the scene of the crime, which NUJP suggested was a smoke screen to the perpetrators’ true motives.
With Maganes declared as the 18th journalist to have been slain under Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s term, and the overall 190th (since 1986) to die in the country, Baybado said that no vocal critic of the administration was safe.
“Maganes may have survived death’s grasps back in 2016, however as the Duterte administration’s war on dissent heightens, clearly no one is safe particularly those who remain critical and herald dissenting voices!” Baybado said.
NUJP mourned the death of one of their own, and expressed their unwavering determination to seek justice for him and others who were killed as well.
“We will continue to seek justice for Vir and all our other fallen colleagues as we continue our struggle for genuine freedom of the press and of expression in our country,” NUJP wrote in their statement.
To cage mockingbirds
On the same day of Vir Maganes’ death, three Camarines Norte-based journalists, Virgilio “Bagwis” Avila Jr., Mia Concordia, and Deo Trinidad were detained under cyber libel charges filed against them by Camarines Norte governor Edgar Tallado.
The journalists were charged due to their posts on their respective personal Facebook accounts, where they criticized the local government’s inefficient COVID-19 response and corruption.
Avila was the first one to be arrested, who was then followed by Concordia after visiting Avila in jail. Then, Trinidad was the last, after surrendering himself to Regional Trial Court Branch 40 upon the news of Avila and Concordia’s arrests. Based on a warrant of arrest issued byJudge Ivan Dizon, each of the journalists faced four cyber libel cases and bail was set at P80,000 for each case. After six hours of detainment, Avila and Concordia were released on bail.
Trinidad and Concordia’s charges were later reduced to one while Avila still faces four charges. NUJP added that Avila was to face another libel case that was filed against him, radio broadcaster RommelI basco Fenix, and four others.
Last September 15, Avila and Fenix, who was arrested while on air in his radio show “Fenix Files,” alongside the other three journalists were arrested under libel charges filed by provincial board members, Romeo Marmol and Rodolfo Gache.
Meanwhile, Jun Digamon, a Davao City broadcaster for Brigada News FM, was arrested last November 13 also for cyber libel charges due to his criticizing how a Digos City medical center treated a patient in a Facebook post.
“While Digarmon has a reputation to be outspoken and brash in his commentaries on air or on his Facebook page, NUJP stands firm that no journalist should be silenced and be slapped with this law,” said NUJP, who added that Digamon was the second journalist in Mindanao to be arrested that week, as Leonardo Hijara, a broadcaster from Surigao was arrested only two days before.
The law in question being the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, with NUJP calling for it to be revised.
“The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 has restricted the space of free expression and free press, which is vital to keep power in check. We intensify the call to revisit the country’s libel laws, which we members of the press and rights advocates find to be excessive, outdated and prone to abuse,” NUJP said.
In the midst of two killings and other cases of arrests, red-tagging remained prominent in the time of a calamity.
In a Facebook post, Presidential Communications undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy red-tagged CNN Philippines for retweeting a post regarding a donation drive done by the League of Filipino Students (LFS), a youth organization which she labels as a front for the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-New People’s Army (CPP-NDF-NPA). She even pondered if there is an LFS or CEGO “cell” within the network.
“This, like many other of Badoy’s social media posts and rants, is totally irresponsible and endangers our colleagues in CNN, not to mention the membe, adding that her claims violated two constitutional rights: freedom of association and due process..
CEGP likewise criticized Badoy’s actions, highlighting that her deeds were not something that were needed in these times.
“In this time of crisis, we do not need unsolicited and unproven statements. We need true leadership that will bring peace and order to our country. We need accountability from the government and rapid action to aid the victims of calamities,” CEGP said.
Meanwhile, Nestor P. Burgos Jr., the Director of NUJP and a former chairman of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, was red-tagged by Jeffrey “Ka Eric” Celiz, who was described as a star witness of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
Alyansa ng Kabataang Mamamahayag ng Polytechnic University of the Philippines (AKMPUP) also disagreed with Celiz’s allegations.
“His credibility is already tainted with lies spitted on the hearings and he shall no longer be entertained if he continuously put other people into danger by heedlessly tagging them as terrorists,” AKMPUP said.
Lastly, the image of Nestor Lubi Burgos, an Independent Field Correspondent of DZJV 1458 RADYO Calabarzon, was used by the DDS News Info Youtube Channel instead of the image of Nestor P. Burgos Jr., who was the person originally being referred to in the video.
DZJV 1458 RADYO Calabarzon released a statement last November 9, saying “Nais naming linawin na ang nagngangalang si Mr. Nestor P. Burgos na siyang tinutukoy sa naturang video ay hindi ang aming kasamahan sa pamamahayag.”
They pointed to the dangers of this misinformation to the safety of Nestor Lubi Burgos and his family, adding that they were expecting an apology from DDS News Info. [P]
Photo by Kristine Paula Bautista