Media groups condemned the worsening attacks against the press in the Philippines following the death threat against Mindanao Gold Star Daily associate editor Leonardo Vicente Corrales, who is also alleged to have a P1 million bounty on his head.
In a press conference, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) raised concerns over the red-tagging of Corrales, along with veteran journalist Froilan Gallardo of MindaNews.
On August 27, Corrales received flyers sent via courier service alleging that both him and Gallardo are members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army.
The courier packet, sent on August 24, identified the sender as Danilo Tirso Mantangan of Sitio Camansi, Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental with mobile phone number 09091020123.
“It’s an attempt to brand journalists as combatant parties of the conflict, instead of journalists and civilians,” NUJP Western Mindanao safety officer JB Deveza said.
Deveza pointed out that the flyers also attacked the credibility of the journalists by describing them as “biased” and “supporters of terrorist organizations.”
“We expect that this is not going away soon,” Deveza said, explaining the need “to express our outrage and for the state to do something about it.”
“It does not only endanger the life of our colleagues but also depriving the community of fair and unbiased reporting,” he added.
Gallardo, who has covered the various conflicts of Mindanao for since the 1980s, said he was included in the ongoing red-tagging of journalists, lawyers, church workers and activists for having recently interviewed the New People’s Army about a raid they carried out in August.
“We cannot just write the government’s side, but also the rebels’,” Gallardo said.
“If they think that by doing this they would kill the idea of journalism, they thought wrong”
Gallardo said journalists are duty-bound to get the side of rebels in the many conflicts in Mindanao as they are expected to interview government armed forces as well.
“We fail to get both sides of the story, then we are no good as journalists,” Gallardo explained.
Predicate to ‘terrorism’
Former NUJP chair Inday Espina-Varona said journalists do not work in a vacuum and called the attacks part of a national government policy stemming from President Rodrigo Duterte’s vow to “crush Asia’s longest running communist insurgency.”
“Actually, he (Duterte) had given himself his own deadline of June 2019, so there is a sense of urgency now,” she said, adding that the red-tagging on Gallardo and Corrales are connected and appeared to be in line with government’s efforts to amend the Human Security Act.
Among others, this could lead to the classification of journalists’ interviews of persons or groups tagged as terrorist as “an accessory to crime and to terrorism.”
“There is a strong attempt from government officials to not allow this (interviews with rebels) anymore because it is deemed to be giving succor to their enemies,” Varona said.
“The government’s view is: if you don’t want to be red-tagged then you need to condemn certain parties, which is not what a journalist does,” she added.
Making journalists vulnerable
Varona said the sedition charges filed against opposition figures, which stemmed from a bogus ouster matrix Malacañan Palace itself released, makes journalists vulnerable as it opens the possibility of their inclusion in the case.
“There’s a lot of institutional repression, but it’s not just enough to say ‘let’s wait for a law or a campaign’ because these attacks are not a joke and should be taken very seriously. They should be laid at the feet of a government that consistently failed to recognize these threats,” she said.
Jonathan de Santos, NUJP National Capital Region chair stressed that journalists are civilians and should not be labelled as belonging to any side in the conflict for simply doing their jobs. He added that if this can happen to journalists, it could happen to anyone.
Ms. Azenath Formoso of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) read spokesperson, Atty. Jacqueline Ann C. de Guia, CHR spokesperson, calling attacks on journalists attacks on people’s right to the truth and to be fully informed.
The CHR It also echoed calls for security forces in Cagayan de Oro and Northern Mindanao to investigate the red-tagging and ensure the safety of targeted individuals.
The College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), meanwhile, said the attacks against Corrales and Gallardo extend to the ranks of the campus press.
“Military intelligence agents infiltrate campuses all over the country and take pictures of student publication offices,” CEGP national secretariat member Trixia Amboy said during the press conference.
a statement, the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) for its part called the
red-tagging of Corrales and Gallardo “baseless and irresponsible.”
This does not only endanger the profession and render chilling effect but also put the lives of those red-tagged and their families at risk,” PPI said.
“We urge the government to hold accountable the perpetrators of such false, malicious and dangerous propaganda,” PPI added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)