2 more wounded in Tagum land dispute; LGU and local police finally step in


Government officials have finally stepped in to avert further bloodshed in the Tagum City land dispute between agrarian reform beneficiaries and Lapanday Foods Corp, after two more farmers were wounded in an attack the corporation’s guards today.

The latest outbreak of violence brings to nine the number of farmers injured since beneficiaries asserted on December 9 their claim to land already awarded by the DAR and the regional trial court.

Wounded were Randy Rana and another farmer, surnamed Patindol, who were among seven members standing guard over field workers harvesting crop and then slashing down banana trees.

Aides of Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano, who is issuing a cease and desist order today against Lapanday, and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) have been coordinating since rthe initial outbreak of violence last Dec. 12.

Soon after word of the second attack broke, the DILG issued orders to local officials, prompting aid for beleaguered farmers.

In a telephone interview, Tagum Mayor Allan L Rellon, who reached the site around 10 am, said he had ordered the local police to disarm the guards.

Rellon also said he would put up a “command incident center” to prevent further violence.

Renante Mantos, chairperson of Hugpong Sa Mga Mag-uuma sa Walhog Compostela (Humawac), the alliance of farmer cooperatives from the Tagum barangays of Madaum and San Isidro said, also in a phone interview, that local cops had initially refused to step in because the incident happened on private land.

He said both incidents were premeditated and without provocation from farmers.

Rellon said his office had attempted a dialogue in the city hall with the chief of police and provincial agrarian reform officials. He said it did not push through because farmers’ representatives would not leave their camp site on the disputed land.

Mantos said leaders wanted farmers to listen to the dialogue and they could not abandon the land because the armed guards would move in.

Read: Tagum shooting shows land conflicts still root of PH unrest

slashed-trees
MARBAI agrarian reform beneficiaries have harvested and slashed down around five hectares of banana crop, saying they would use the land for a vegetable farm to augment the food needs of their families. (Photo courtesy of Marbai Beneficiaries)

Slashed trees: Marbai representatives have  harvested and slashed down around five hectares of banana crop, saying they would plant the cleared land with vegetable crops to augment the food needs of 159 families.

Farmers were cutting down banana trees when guards of Lapanday’s security agency, ACDISA, attacked this morning, according to Mantos.

Mantos said farmers had slashed at least five hectares of banana plantations yesterday.

“The guards would not let us farm and harvest in peace so we decided on an action that would also deprive them of what Lapanday wants to steal from us,” Mantos said in the local dialect.

He also said the cleared land would be rehabilitated and planted with vegetables and other crops that could augment the food needs of some 159 beneficiary families.

DAR actions

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) had sent a legal team and held an emergency meeting after the first shooting incident last December 12.

It immediately ordered regional and provincial executives to probe the incident and file cases against some 20 perpetrators, led by the head guard only identified by his surname, Vicente.

Lawyer Jobert Pahilha, legal consultant for DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano, said officials would also file today with DARAB (adjudication board) Davao del Norte a motion for Execution of the May 12, 2016 order of installation and to Supervise Harvest.

Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (PARAD) Jose Nilo Tillano issued a ruling in December 2015 for the Marbai members to be installed on the disputed 145 hectares.

“The said decision has long been final and executory but was not implemented by PARAD Tillano for one reason or another,” Pahilga said.

In October this year, impatient farmer-beneficiaries camped out in front of the Lapanday gate. Mariano had dialogued with the farmers, saying the government wanted to install them peacefully without compromising their safety and security.

 

 

Update on Tagum shooting: DAR chief orders probe


Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano has ordered the Regional Office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Region XI, and the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office of Davao Del Norte to probe the reported gunfire attack by security guards of the Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) at the farmers’ encampment in Brgy. Madaum, Tagum City.

A press release from the DAR said Mariano also instructed local DAR officials to coordinate with the Philippine National Police of Davao del Norte for the possible filing of cases against the suspects of the shooting incident.

What follows is the rest of the press release

“Six victims, including a 16-year-old minor, were taken to the Davao Regional Medical Center after sustaining gunshot wounds at around 7:45 a.m. An airborne craft was also seen spraying pesticide at the campsite immediately after the reported incident.

Farmers of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI) have been staging a camp-in protest at the LFC compound after successfully reclaiming the contested land last December 9, six years after the LFC evicted them out.

Almost 2,000 farmworkers and members of peasant organizations have joined the farmers’ camp in Brgy. Madaum to support the fight of the MARBAI farmers.

MARBAI members are farmer beneficiaries who were given Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) in 1996 under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Each of the 159 farmers owns a 0.79-hectare piece of the 145-hectare banana plantation.

According to Mely Yu, President of MARBAI, they were forced to enter a Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement with the LFC who buys their products for export. They were tricked into selling high-grade bananas which were poorly classified for a lower price, thus, resulting to a measly Php 2,000.00 monthly income, she added. Because of the agreement, the farmer beneficiaries became indebted to LFC for more or less a billion pesos (P1,000,000,000.00)

The DAR has been meeting with the farmers for their installation to the 145 hectares as ordered by Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (PARAD) Jose Nilo Tillano in his December 15, 2015 decision, which has long been final and executory.

In October of this year, when the farmer-beneficiaries were already in a camp-out in front of the gate of LFC, Secretary Mariano himself visited the farmers and had a dialogue with them assuring them that DAR is studying the matter carefully and wanted to install them peacefully into their landholding without compromising their safety and security.

Unfortunately, this incident happened.”

Even as peace talks poised to resume, attacks on legal activists heighten


(First of five parts)

amelia pond  Even as National Democratic Front (NDF) consultants Wilma and Benito Tiamzon finally walked out of detention from Camp Crame today, reports from regions indicate that state security agencies are stepping up attacks against legal activists.

The Rural Missionaries of thePhilippines reported the arrest today (August 19), around noon, of 64-year old Amelia pond, the order’s regional coordinator for Southern Mindanao.

Pond is also the research and documentation officer for the Salugpungan School Network in Mindanao, which remain the only available opportunities for education of indigenous children.

The attack happened as peace panels of the government and the NDF were preparing for the resumption of long-stalled peace talks in Oslo, Norway.

Read: Tears, hugs as NDF consultants walk free

Pond was accosted by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) criminal instigation and detection group (CIDG) after a three day RMP assembly at the Living the Gospel Renewal Center on Archbishop Reyes Avenue, in Cebu City’s Lahug district.

Her arrest came as activists and peace advocates were hailing the release of the Tiamzon couple, which brought the number of freed National Democratic Front (NDF) political prisoners to 17.

 

 

tiamzons
Wilma Tiamzon (left) and husband, Benito (right) talk to supporters and peace advocates following their release from detention. They are flying  with 12 other consultants to join the National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panel in Oslo, Norway, where peace talks are set to resume on August 22. Photo by Obet de Castro

“They will join 15 others so far released in peace talks in Oslo on August 22 and for consultations with the NDF Negotiating Panel,” lawyer Edre Olalia said. Two of the released consultants are not joining the Oslo talks as they need urgent medical care, NDF sources said.

Planted evidence?

The RMP report said Pond was in a taxi with three other people when CIDG cops blocked them. They forced her out of the vehicle.

“The female CIDG held her by the arm and asked her with different names but she denied. This was followed by more questions showed photographs, and a supposed warrant of arrest, but they did not make her read the warrant,” the report said.

“One of Amy’s companion insisted that she should read the warrant for her to know what her case is but despite Amy and her companion’s insistence they failed to let Amy read the warrant. Amy vehemently resisted this illegal arrest.”

The witnesses said one of the CIDG men went near Amy and inserted two ID’s in her bag.

“Then they asked her to alight the car. She refused to go with them but they forced her. In this instance, Sr. Francis Anover and Sr. Marisol Garduno who were also in the center immediately went to her rescue.”

Pond was brought to Camp Sotero in Cebu City. and charged with double murder and frustrated murder in Compostela Valley under the name of Adelfa Toledo.

Increasing attacks

pajallaBefore Pond’s arrest, Quezon province cops nabbed a peasant leader identified with the military party-list group, Anakpawis.

Karapatan-Quezon spokesperson Alex Pacalda told Bulatlat.com that the arrest of Antonio Pajalla was illegal as, “the rebellion charge against him was long extinguished when he was granted amnesty under former President Fidel Ramos.”

Bulatlat quoted Pacalda as saying the peasant leader held with him his copy of the certificate from the National Amnesty Commission when he was arrested at around 9 a.m. Aug. 12. He was on a jeepney en route to the Anakpawis Partylist’s office in Catanauan town.

The rebellion charge against Pajalla, which is the ground for his arrest, was first filed in 1995. But Pajalla was granted amnesty by President Ramos in 1997, said Pacalda.

Karapatan and other rights groups  have warned that the continuing presence of paramilitary troops — trained and supervised by the military — represents a major threat to the peace process.

“We must watch out for saboteurs,” said Catholic Bishop (Caloocan City)  Deogracias Yñiguez on the eve of the Tiamzons’ release. He said church workers and civil society and people’s organizations must remain vigilant on human rights violations and other abuses, which could wreak havoc on the peace process.

The Ecumenical Bishops Forum and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Yñiguez said, worked hard with other groups “to find many ways to ensure that the crucial peace process resumes.”

Lumad victims

Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo confirmed that paramilitary troops strafed a lumad community on July 30 during holding a wedding in  San Fernando, Bukidnon, killing a pregnant woman and wounding seven other people, including five children.

lumad333
Maytas Gauyran, chieftain of the Tigwahanon tribe, grieves at the coffin of his daughter, Marikit Gayoran, who was pregnant when shot dead during a community wedding. Photo courtesy of Kilab multimedia

A DSWD report said  a paramilitary group associated with the 8th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army. Taguiwalo said all victims beneficiaries of the DSWD’s 4Ps and Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program (MCCT).

Taguiwalo also ordered an investigation into the provision of projects for suspected mastermind ‘Alde Salusad’ or ‘Butsoy’ despite a warrant of arrest for a previous killing of a lumad datu, Jimmy Liguyon, in front of his small children.

 

 

 

Vulnerable communities

The Save Our Schools  (SOS) network said attacks on indigenous schools in Mindanao have increased following then assumption of Duterte. The tough talking leader has close links to restive indigenous groups fighting against the entry of big mining firms and plantations into their ancestral lands.

In the areas around Duterte’s home city of Davao, teachers were forced to close down some schools because of death threats, according to SOS executive director Rius Valle.

He said paramilitary forces trained and supervised by military officials were hunting the teachers in the Pacquibato district of Davao City.

“They documented attempts to kill them,” Valle said in an interview.”The two teachers had to close down the school and seek sanctuary in Davao City.”

After the Paquibato incident, which happened just before Duterte’s  first State of the Nation Address (Sona), paramilitary troops also killed the leader of a parents’ association in a lumad school on the outskirts of Davao City. The community in the area have a long running feud with religious leader Apollo Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, a known supporter and friend of Duterte.

lumad444On August 13, six men, riding in tandem on three motorcycles, also strafed a group of lumad in Barangay Zillovia, Talacogon, Agusan del Sur. A woman, shot in the chest, had to be placed under intensive care.

The victims are indigenous claimants to land now covered by an forestry agreement granted to  Provident Tree Farms, INc.
The RMP said the incident is connected to an earlier series of attacks, including the murder of  Datu Mansulbadan, the former supreme datu of the Manobo community in the area.

Four other Manobo — including a 13-year old boy — who were the apparent target of the gunmen suffered less serious injuries. The attack also prompted an evacuation of residents.

 

#HindiManhid: Bring Them Home mission for stranded OFWs in Saudi


“Our kababayans are in serious crisis because their employers did not pay their salaries. They are also confronted by many difficulties caused by the expiry of their end-of-services benefits. Many were not given exit visas after they completed their contracts, and are being delayed for repatriation.”
jan28_ofw
Photo from abs-cbnnews.com
More than 11,000 stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWS) in Saudi Arabia are the subjects of an urgent government mission to bring them home by September 10, according to Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.
Taguiwalo detailed her department’s participation in the multi-agency mission headed by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III as the latter announced a giant step in efforts to ease the crisis of 11,000 workers affected by setbacks in the Middle East country’s oil industry, the backbone of its economy.
Bello said the Saudi monarch has instructed the Ministry of Labor to waive immigration penalties for workers with expired working visas. The King has also directed Kingdom officials to provide food aid and start processing the money claims of the workers.
Taguiwalo said “Operation Bring Them Home” also aims to document situations of undocumented OFWs in crisis like women and children,  facilitate provision of appropriate services and referral to their respective regions for the needed services. The DSWD is earmarking P50 million to help the OFWs in crisis.
OPTIONS
The labor secretary said the King has offered workers options: plane fare for those who want to return to the Philippines and re-employment aid for those willing to transfer to other firms.
Slide1
Labor Secretary Silvestro III and Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo
Taguiwalo said the DSWD would provide psychosocial interventions like counseling and debriefing, help distressed OFWs in reintegration with families and communities and provide after-care and other material services.
The Foreign Affairs and Health departments are also part of the mission ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Many Filipino workers have said they are willing to stay on and be absorbed in other industries to going home and facing unemployment. But complex legal requirements and unhelpful employers have made for a difficult process.
While Saudi Arabia has some of the most onerous labor policies in the Middle East, the government of President Duterte has managed to wrest concessions from the Kindgom, in contrast to the performance of former president Benigno Aquino III’s administration.
The Saudi labor ministry has confirmed the King’s instructions “to guarantee and protect the rights of foreign workers,” according to Bello.
Taguiwalo appointed DSWD Undersecretary Vilma B. Cabrera, Assistant Secretary Hope V. Hervilla, Social Welfare officers Perlita V. Panganiban, Mely S. Pangilinan, Teresita L. Valentino, Victoria N. NAvida, Marygrail B. Dong-as, Franco V. Lopez, Bienvenido V. Barbosa and Ali B. Namia to the mission
stranded-ofws-072016
Urgent queries from OFWS in crisis. Photo by abs-cbnnews
The affected OFWs were  previously employed by three multinational companies: Bin Laden, Saudi Oger, and Mohammad  Al Mojil, as well as by six (6) sub-contracting companies.
“Our kababayans are in serious crisis because their employers did not pay their salaries. They are also confronted by many difficulties caused by the expiry of their end-of-services benefits. Many were not given exit visas after they completed their contracts, and are being delayed for repatriation,” she explained.
The focus of the mission is the stranded OFWs in three major KSA cities, namely Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam/Al-Khobar.
“This is not the first time that Filipinos working overseas such as in the KSA have experienced severe crisis because of questionable labor policies imposed by their employers and because of the neglect of their contracting agencies,” Taguiwalo said.
“The DSWD sees it important to take part in this humanitarian mission so we can gauge the impact of such policies on the lives and welfare of our OFWs. We hope to come up with findings that can help guide us in the future when it comes to the implementation of the country’s export labor policy,” she stressed.
“As the government agency that’s primarily tasked to look after the welfare of Filipinos, the DSWD wants to also provide assistance to our OFWs the same way we also aim to help their families here at home when it comes to their emergency  needs,” Taguiwalo said.

Keep those hands off the phone while driving — or else


You’re napping. Suddenly horns start blaring. You sit up, rub your eyes and see your car is not moving while the lanes on both sides stream forward.

Your best buddy is oblivious, sending a text to a beloved.

Call them intexticated.

intexticated1.jpg
http://www.textinganddrivingsafety.com

Most of us have probably experienced riding with kin or friends who text or check their social media pages or email stream while driving. We grasp our seat belts and pray for deliverance as the one-handed drivers struggle with multi-tasking.

The Philippine Council for Health, Research and Development (PCHRD) cites studies showing that drivers are four times as likely to cause a crash when using their phones.

“The likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a 0.8 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting the behavior is safe,” the agency notes.

In the United States, the Colorado-based website Texting and Driving Safety.com says 23% of all car crashes recorded in 2011 were caused by drivers who were texting. 

intexticated2
Graphic from http://www.textinganddrivingsafety.com

Slap on the wrist

We all scream at drunk drivers. Social media-crazy Filipinos, however, seem to shrug off an already existing ban on mobile phone use while driving. 

The penalty is a joke — P200 from first to third offense. Driving without slippers gets more than double the penalty for driving while using a handheld phone or mobile radio.

Only when you’ve actually caused an accident does reckless driving come into play.

 

 

INTEXTICATED3

Well, brace yourselves. Change is coming. The House of Representatives adopted en toto the Senate’s version of the “Anti-distracted Driving Act” Monday, during the last session of the 16th Congress.

This means the measure doesn’t need bicameral committee proceedings to consolidate versions by both chambers, doing a way for the ratification requirement.

In 2011, former President and Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shepherded her bill to approval, but it lacked a similar Senate push.

The measure should  now be on its way to President Benigno Aquino III’s desk.

It’s highly unlikely he’ll veto it — but you never know with him. Unless vetoed, an approved bill that has been transmitted to the Chief Executive will lapse into law within a month.

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte also comes into office on July 1 with enough time to sign it. If I were a betting gal, I’d put my money on Mr. Duterte — who’s allowed himself to be ticketed for traffic violations — taking the law very seriously.

davao cowboy

The measure covers the gamut of distracted driving. This includes the use of mobile devices as a means of communication either through texts or calls and the use of electronic gadgets for playing games, internet browsing and watching movies.

Because drivers of public utility vehicles have crashed while using cell phones, the measure now includes the owner or operator of the vehicle as a liable party.

Also covered are wheeled agricultural machineries, construction vehicles and other forms of transportation such as bicycles, pedicabs, trolleys, “habal-habal”, “kuliglig”, human and animal-powered carriages.

The penalty:  P5,000 for the first offense, P10,000 for the second offense and P15,000 for the third offense. Higher than for drag racing, one of Mr. Duterte’s pet peeves.

The final offense shall mean cancellation of the driver’s license and a penalty of P20,000.

The bill exempts drivers using the aid of a hands-free function and vehicles that are not in motion except those who are temporarily halted by the red light and by traffic enforcers.

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Land Transportation Office (LTO), Philippine Information Agency (PIA), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Philippine National Police (PNP) shall initiate a six-month, nationwide information, education and campaign.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

 

RSF wrong to call for media boycott


Reporters without Borders (RSF) is right to express outrage over President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s remarks on the murders of Filipino journalists. Its call for Philippine media to boycott his press conferences is dead wrong. So is the suggestion to use the law on defamation (libel or slander in this country) against Mr. Duterte.

The international organization was reacting to this particular line of Mr. Duterte: If you’re not a bad journalist, you won’t get killed. That was a line repeated thrice in his rambling harangue, each time said with greater intensity.

Media did not misinterpret, Mr. Duterte, nor take him out of context.

Read: Lawyering for the killers of journalists

killings

Media groups, in their investigations into the 174 murders of journalists, have pointed out allegations of corruption against some of the victims and the unjust economic systems in media that make colleagues vulnerable to corruption.

There are laws that cover erring media practitioners. Murder is a crime; there is no excuse for it.

Most journalist victims died in the line of duty. It is not true that only the bad eggs are hunted.

Most victims were murdered for exposing corruption and actions threatening local communities, including human rights violations, the sale of narcotics, the proliferation of illegal gambling, illegal logging and abusive mining practices.

When state agents commit the crime – and majority of suspects in the killings of journalists are active or retired law enforces, and local officials and/or their henchmen – the situation grows worse.

Hundreds of human rights workers, judges, political activists and environmentalists have been slain for many of the same issues that journalists die for.

Defamation

There is no downplaying the gravity of Mr. Duterte’s statements.

But for RSF to suggest that Philippine media organizations bring defamation lawsuits against Mr. Duterte is mind-boggling.

“Duterte should nonetheless be pleased by the existence of these laws because without them he would also be exposed to violent repercussions, according to his own words. We urge organizations that represent the media to not overlook comments of this kind and to bring lawsuits. We also urge the media to boycott the Duterte administration’s news conferences until the media community gets a public apology.” — RSF

Hasn’t RSF kept track of our long campaign to decriminalize libel? Did it not monitor the threat represented by the Anti-Cybercrime Law, which increases the penalty for the crime?

I do not want this used on me, on citizen journalists, or the 40 million Filipinos on social media.Why would I use it against a critic, even if he happens to be the President-elect?

I am a member, formerly chairperson, of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), which campaigns to drop libel as a crime. Around the world, media groups are battling to decriminalize defamation. RSF should know that.

The late Jun Pala’s family, on the other hand, or other heirs of slain journalists, can choose this course.

Grounds for boycott?

A boycott by journalists is tantamount to a strike against both news sources and the people we serve.

A media boycott should be used only when our physical safety or ability to gather, process and disseminate the news, are in direct danger due to the actions of news sources.

The President-elect’s remarks present a general danger — especially if people with axes to grind see his views as a green light to go after journalists perceived as erring. These remarks do not yet represent a direct threat as, say, censorship does.

His catcalling and leering, however, are direct threats to well-being of women reporters — that is why there are laws on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Mr Duterte MUST apologize with no excuses for that, and pledge not to display such behavior. GMA7 reporter Mariz Umali has enough grounds to file a legal complaint. RSF did not mention her case.

Mr. Duterte uses extremely colorful language. But other chiefs of state, including outgoing President Benigno Aquino III have used similar lines. That does not excuse the President-elect. And media groups have spoken up as they always have.

The Philippine media did not boycott former Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when they directly attacked us.

The first pressured owners of one national daily into selling it to his political allies. Mr. Estrada also prodded business cronies to boycott a hard-hitting newspaper.

Mrs. Arroyo took on emergency powers, padlocking a newspaper and arresting outspoken critics. The Armed Forces and the police went around the country, providing schools and communities with a list of “enemies of the state” – which included the name media organizations, including the NUJP.

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos closed down media, except for a few outfits owned by cronies.

Impunity’s throwback loop

Through all these years, Filipino journalists slugged it out with the powers-that-be. Even under the dictatorship, we put up underground press units and alternative media outfits.

We continued to cover Mr. Estrada and Mrs. Arroyo, not allowing their actions to cow us.

aquino

In 2014, on the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) came out with a report. I wrote a piece what perpetrates impunity in this country. I scoured files going back to the early 2000s. Here are excerpts from that article:

“It is 2014 and I’m looking at reports, articles, talks and papers from 2004. Few things have changed. Indeed, every incident of violence perpetrated against journalists and almost every official statement on the issue by the incumbent President hurl those working for press freedom into a never-ending #throwback loop….

Mr. Aquino has tried to downplay the 33 murders of journalists under his watch, insulting the victims while at it.

‘When we say ‘media killing,’ usually (we refer to) agents of the state suppressing the search for the truth . . . but many of them, we can say, were not in pursuit of the profession,’ said the President, citing love triangles and extortion as possible motives.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) notes the poor solution rate for the 33 murders under Aquino’s term, with arrests only for six of these cases. Yet here was the land’s highest official, who often presents his administration as righteous, providing an old, discredited spin to a long-festering problem.

Mrs. Arroyo and leaders of the Philippine National Police (PNP) then also repeatedly blamed media victims for the killings, hinting at “shady backgrounds,” corruption and messy personal lives.

Then and now: Top government officials refusing to acknowledge that murder has become a routine response by powerful individuals and groups who come under a harsh media spotlight.

Then and now: Top government officials ignoring the roots of the problem, instead, hinting that murders could decrease if journalists eased up on their duties as watchdogs of society.”

 

We owe the people

And now we face Mr. Duterte.

A boycott is not just between media and Mr Duterte. A boycott does not just affect the incomes of media workers or the profits of our employers.

A boycott would hurt most the people we serve. Our people, RSF.

digong alabangIn this day and age, Mr Duterte can take to the Internet and record daily ramblings for the people to watch. He could very well bypass media.

But that would not be real communication. It could become a one-way monologue or he could impose a controlled platform, where only supporters get to ask sacharine questions. Filipinos know about that; we saw that during the dictatoship.

RSF is wrong. Filipino journalists owe the people our coverage of Mr. Duterte. We owe them, his fans and critics, the duty of asking the tough questions.

We cannot criticize if we abandon the task of asking those hard questions. We cannot educate, nor explain, if we stop prodding and investigating contradictions between words and actions. And we won’t be able to give Filipinos the good news – and there are many positive pronouncements and actions from Mr. Duterte – if we ignore his existence.

This is not a playground brawl. This is a fight for press freedom and free expression; a fight against impunity. This is not just about journalists, because those two rights are intertwined with other basic rights due to all citizens of this republic.

Media is a reflection of the society it serves. Where we get killed, others, too, face the guns. And they struggle on, as we in media should.

Impunity rides high when society confers too much power on select individuals and groups and imposes too little accountability on them. The murders of journalists in the Philippines will go on so long as governments continue to confound calls for transparency, so long as the corrupt and abusive wield the silence of the graveyard in response to expressions of the people’s democratic aspirations.

Opaque systems and selective imposition of justice, not to mention a weak justice system that makes sitting ducks of whistleblowers and witnesses, fueled and continue to fuel conditions that constrict press freedom – and all other freedoms — in the Philippines.

We will slug it out. We will soldier on. And while at it, we will give credit to Mr. Duterte when he gets it right even as we stand our ground when he is wrong.

Panelo as spokesman: Bad signal for seekers of truth, justice


Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s next President, has appointed defense lawyer Salvador Panelo as his spokesman.

Presidential transition teams usually vet nominees. Maybe, Duterte, who got Panelo to represent him during the public lynching stage-managed by Sen. Antonio Trillanes, feels he knows the lawyer well enough to forego of the vetting process.

Mr. Duterte chose wrong. Journalists and media groups are telling him so. As have the families of the media victims in the Nov. 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre.

maguindanao-massacre

“Hindi ako komportable. Hindi tama (I am not comfortable. This is not right),” said Mary Grace Morales on behalf of other families of our fallen colleagues.

“Parang alam na namin saan patungo ang kaso (We know where the case is headed),” Morales, whose husband Rosell, circulation manager of the community paper, News Focus, died in the massacre, said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) quoted Morales as saying, “Kung sya (Panelo) na talaga, hindi na ako aasa na may mangyayari pa sa kaso na ito (If he is really appointed, I will no longer hope for progress in this case),” she added.

Duterte campaigned on the promise to rid the Philippines of criminals and abusive government officials. Few clans are more abusive than the Ampatuans of Maguindanao.

Read: THE AMPATUAN MASSACRE: BECAUSE THEY COULD (IMPUNITY IN THE PHILIPPINES)

Ampatuan-621x446
Andal Ampatuan, Jr., a principal suspect in the Maguindanao Massacre. Photo from the AsianCorrespondent

Panelo was a defense lawyer for the Ampatuan massacre principals. He withdrew as counsel for Andal Ampatuan Jr. in December last year.

The NUJP expressed serious misgivings on his appointment as spokesman. It noted the “possible implications on the trial of those accused of what is acknowledged as the single deadliest attack on the press in history and one of the worst incidents of electoral violence in the country.”

I am a member of the NUJP, one of its former chairpersons. While the statement was right on most points, a tougher call is in order.

Mayor Duterte must rethink his appointment of Panelo

paneloDo you see this quote, sir?

 

More than 50 people died, most of them hapless journalists. It was a MASSACRE of civilians.

Unarmed civilians, many of them women, one of them a lawyer who worked with the poor. A massacre, sir. The single, most vicious attack on journalists ever, worldwide. And it happened in your beloved Mindanao.

ampatuan-massacre

One can be a defense lawyer and protect suspects’ rights.

It is another thing to peddle the lies of killers, the worst of murderers.

Panelo described the charges as fabricated.

F A B R I C A T E D.

That speaks of his affinity to truth — an ocean separates him and truth.

This is the man who will be your spokesman?

There are, what… 6,000 positions? Put him somewhere where his presence does not taint the search for justice.

Other media groups have also raised opposition to Panelo’s appointment.

Philippines Graphic editor in chief, Joel Pablo Salud said:

I can already see where the Ampatuan case will be going with your choice, Mr. President, of a spokesperson. While I believe and will fight for people’s rights to have their day in court, lies like this one do not help the cause of justice. I suggest you find someone else to stand as your voice to the people because by this statement alone, this man could endanger your presidency even before it starts.

National Press Club president Paul Gutierrez said it would be difficult for journalists to work with Panelo.

“Members of the press would find it hard to interact, and work with, a press secretary whose main client are the suspects in the wholesale murder of the members of the press that has outraged the entire world,” Gutierrez said.

“We understand certain debts owed during the election season need to be paid, but for a candidate who won overwhelmingly on a promise that change is coming, this is not the refreshing wind of change our clients sorely need now,” said Romel Regalado Bagares, Executive Director,Center for International Law.

“The choice is uninspired, to say the least. But it is clear it does not really understand the gravity of what happened on Nov. 23, 2009 on a hill in Sitio Masalay, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Sadly, it is a choice that does attack not impunity decisively but rather, perpetuates it,” the lawyer and journalist said.