NDF-Bikol: Radio station closure an attack on press freedom

The National Democratic Front in Bikol (NDF-Bikol) said the recent closure of a radio station in Legazpi City is another suppression of press freedom in a region that has seen one of the biggest numbers of media killings and attacks in recent years.

In a statement, NDF-Bikol spokesperson Ma. Roja Banua said Radyo Zagitsit DWH1 100.3 News FM’s forced closure is a “brazen attempt to limit the avenues for the Bikolano masses’ voices.”

Banua said the closure is connected with the coming 2022 elections.

The NDF spokesperson in the region said the radio station had existed in six years as “a platform for the masses and ordinary Bikolanos’ demands,” bewailing that the incident also deprived its workers their means of living amidst a pandemic.

‘Politically motivated’

NDF-Bikol’s statement agrees with Zagitsit FM’s claims the closure order issued by the regional office of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) was “politically motivated.”

Radio station manager Hermogenes “Jun” Alegre said they were ordered to cease operations last November 8, several days before the expiration of their extended permit today, November 19.

Alegre blamed Rodrigo Duterte ally and Ako Bikol Rep. Alfredo Garbin for the forced closure, alleging Garbin has influenced the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, of which the lawmaker is a member.

Alegre said that the Committee has pressured the NTC to issue the closure order against his radio station.

In news reports, Alegre revealed that Garbin’s own station Radyo Oragon violates broadcasting laws by using repeaters to cover the entire Bikol Region.

Garbin has denied involvement, saying the closure order is purely an application of law.

Alegre and Garbin are both candidates for different local government positions and are allied with opposing political forces in Albay province.

Press freedom issue

NDF-Bikol said the closure is part of the worsening state suppression of press freedom, citing other cases of attacks on press freedom in the region.

“This is no different from the innumerable cases of threats and harassment that other media practitioners in the region constantly experience,” Banua said.

NDF-Bikol cited Camarines Norte Gov. Edgar Tallado’s filing libel and cyber-libel charges against journalists Virgilio Avila Jr., Nolito Banaria, Irene Cambronero, Mia Concordia, Rommel Ibasco Fenix, Bernie Patiag and Deo Trinidad in 2020.

It added that charges were also filed against broadcasters Ramil Soliveres and Jing Rima in Catanduanes while Albay-based alternative news site Baretang Bikolnon repeatedly suffered intimidation from the military and police.

“Worse, it has become commonplace for politicians and the AFP-PNP-CAFGU (Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine National Police-Civilian Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit) in Bikol to openly kill media practitioners who stand for truth and fearlessly expose crimes and anomalies that influential personalities, businessmen and government agencies are involved with,” Banua said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines reports four Bikol journalists have been killed since July 2016, including the first two cases of media killings in the country under the Rodrigo Duterte government : Larry Que and Joey llana.

Two of the more recent incidents are the killings of Jobert ‘Pulpog’ Bercasio last September 15, 2020 in Sorsogon and Pastor Ronnie Villamor of DYME last November 14, 2020 in Brgy. Matanglad, Milagros, Masbate.

NDF-Bikol said Bercasio was killed by two motorcycle-riding assassins who were seen by witnesses to have retreated to a nearby military detachment after the shooting.  

Villamor, meanwhile, along with land surveyors he was with during the incident, were alleged to be members of the New People’s Army by the military after killing them.

“In both cases, investigations have not prospered and military elements are yet to be punished even though the lies used to cover up the crimes were already publicly exposed,” NDF-Bikol said.

The group called on Bikolanos to support the embattled Zagitsit FM and the “journalists’ battle against state attacks.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)