The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines calls on the local government of Guimba, Nueva Ecija, to immediately stop harassing Radyo Natin Guimba and its staff and preventing them from covering events of public interest in the municipality.

We have received reports of multiple instances of officials, from the police to members of the municipal council and a provincial officer, harassing and threatening Radyo Natin Guimba field reporters, apparently irked by the station’s coverage of the distribution of assistance under the Social Amelioration Program, including complaints of townspeople.

Here are the incidents reported to the NUJP:

April – Police warned RNG staff handing out vitamins and fruit to senior citizens that they could be charged.

May 4 – Police accosted residents Ina Jo Colcol and Dexter Eusebio, who were taking photos and video of townsfolk who ignored social distancing when they trooped to the office of the mayor and the Social Welfare Division for their SAP assistance. The two were brought to the police station and asked to delete the photos and videos they had taken.

May 11 – The municipal council approved Resolution No. 52 s 2020 authorizing Mayor Jose Dizon to file charges for supposed violation of the Bayanihan Heal as One Act against RNG. Before the session, Bonbon Dizon, councilor and son of the mayor, seized the press credentials of field reporter Lina Villafor and took pictures of these.

May 16 – At an emergency meeting of Guimba’s Association of Barangay Captains, lawyer OJ Manuel Cornejo, acting provincial assessor, repeated the threat to sue RNG.

May 18 – Councilor Virgilio Fabro sent an RNG field reporter out of the session hall, claiming they were discussing a “sensitive” topic.

May 19 – police accosted an RNG reporter covering the distribution of palay seeds by the agriculture department.

All these incidents are brazen violations of the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of the press and of expression.

It also seems that the LGU is bent on using Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020’s (Republic Act 11469) provision providing penalties to “Individuals or groups creating or perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the Covid-19 crisis on social media and other platforms…” for no other apparent reason than the fact that RNG had been dutifully playing its role as an independent media institution.

While we do not dispute the municipal government’s right to file charges, these must be truthful and not merely intended to harass the station and its news staff. On the other hand, would it not be much better for the local government and its officials to simply confront whatever issues are raised against them by their own constituents instead of shooting the messenger?

We denounce in particular the police’s clear overreach of their authority in accosting reporters and residents, ordering them to delete photos and videos, the seizure of a reporter’s credentials and the eviction of a reporter from the council session hall.

We stand with RNG Guimba in asserting its right to unhampered coverage of relevant events of public interest in the town.

National Directorate