3 journalists survive attack by Leyte police

Three journalists conducting an interview with farmers survived a shooting incident by members of Pastrana, Leyte police last July 14, Friday, in Barangay Jones of the said municipality.

In an alert Saturday, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said the victims were Tacloban city-based San Juanico TV reporters Lito Bagunas, Noel Sianosa and Ted Tomas who were in the area interviewing farmers involved in a land dispute.

A video accompanying the alert showed Police Staff Sargeant (PSSG) Rhea Mae Baleos of the neighboring Sta. Fe Police Station attacking Sianosa, grabbing his cellphone, ripping his shirt, and repeatedly trying to shove him into a muddy rice field.

The journalist tried to walk away and did not retaliate.

Baleos was in civilian clothing.

A few minutes later, the three journalists heard gunshots and saw other policemen firing the shots, the NUJP reported.

The victims shouted, “Huwag kayong magpapaputok! Mga media kami!” (Don’t fire! We are from the media!)

A video grab of Leyte police officer Rhea Mae Beleos (in pink) attacking Tacloban City-based journalist Noel Sianosa. (From PTFOMS FB page)

To be investigated

The Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS) on Saturday asked the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Eastern Visayas to investigate the incident.

In a statement, PTFOMS executive director Paul Gutierrez said the incident was “totally uncalled for, unnecessary and amounted to abuse of authority and power.”

He added that the gunshots heard in the video were clearly aimed at further intimidating the media workers.

Gutierrez further revealed that Baleos’ husband, PSSg Ver Baleos of the Pastrana Police, was present at the incident and even pointed an assault rifle at the victims.  

PTFOMS said the disputed land had been allegedly pawned by another person to Baleos and her husband.

Gutierrez said the PTFOMS will continue to monitor the incident, warning the police that such abuse against the members of the press shall not be tolerated.

Mere ‘scuffle’

The Leyte Police Provincial Office (LPPO) however tried to downplay the incident, calling it a mere scuffle despite the video showing it was only Baleos who showed aggression.

Pastrana police chief Major Darwin Dalde also denied it was his subordinates who fired the shots heard in the video, despite the journalists’ report they saw the officers firing their guns.

Dalde said the report was “disinformation”.

Dalde’s version in his report posted in the LPPO Facebook page said, “Responding police personnel alighted from the patrol car to pacify the said commotion, however, while approaching, two successive gun bursts from a distance was heard. Accordingly (sic), said personnel spread out in tactical position and heard another two successive gun bursts.”

“The assailant was armed with a long firearm approximately 300 meters away from the police officer. The assailant manage (sic) to flee was chased by the responding police officer but unfortunately, eluded the arrest,” he added.

LPPO chief Lt. Col. Ricky Reli on Sunday relieved the Baleos couple from their respective posts and reassigned to the provincial headquarters.

The LPPO also said the couple turned in their PNP-issued firearms for gun powder residue examination but did not mention anything about the firearms of other police officers present during the incident. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)