1 September 2019
MANILA — Journalists have raised concerns over worsening attacks against the press following the red-tagging of veteran journalist Froilan Gallardo and former National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) director Leonardo Vicente “Cong” Corrales, the latter also targeted by a death threat.
In a press conference in Quezon City on Friday, NUJP condemned the red-tagging of the two journalists and demanded that authorities investigate and unmask the people behind these efforts, which are seen as attempts to intimidate them from their jobs as journalists.
On August 24, flyers sent via courier service tagged Corrales, associate editor of the Mindanao Gold Star Daily, and Gallardo of Mindanews, as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army.
The flyer that targeted Corrales also claimed there is a P1 million bounty for his death and made the totally false claim that he was facing a criminal rape with murder case involving a child. The courier packet in which the flyer was sent 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,” said JB Deveza, NUJP Western Mindanao safety officer, pointing out that it 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,” he said, explaining the need “to express our outrage also, and for the state to do something about it. It does not only endanger the life of our colleagues but also depriving the community from fair and unbiased reporting.”
Gallardo, who has covered the various conflicts of Mindanao for decades, surmised he was targeted for having interviewed the New People’s Army about a raid they carried out.
“We cannot just write the government’s side, but also the rebels’,” he said Gallardo. “If they think that by doing this they would kill the idea of journalism, they thought wrong.”
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 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 scour to their enemies,” said Varona.
“The government’s view is: if you don’t want to be red-tagged then you need to condemn certain parties, which isn’t what a journalist does.”
She also said the sedition charges filed against opposition figures, which stemmed from a bogus ouster matrix government 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 labeled 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 read the statement of CHR spokesperson, Atty. Jacqueline Ann C. de Guia, calling attacks on journalists attacks on people’s right to the truth and to be fully informed. 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.