Does snapping at journalists reflect culture of impunity?
BY ACE ALEGRE
Vol. VIII, No. 15, May 18-24, 2008
BAGUIO CITY (246 kms from Manila) – Does snapping at journalists reflect the culture of impunity, which is the main reason for the unabated killing of not just journalists but also activists?
A media organization says so, going by its stand regarding the abrasive behavior of Alfonso Lista Town Vice Mayor Clarence Polig towards two news correspondents of a national daily.
“The harassment of Malaya correspondent Ma. Elena Catajan and photographer Redgie Cawis illustrates very clearly how the culture of impunity in this country is allowed to flourish and embolden those who would wish to suppress the free Philippine press,” said Joe Torres, chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP). The incident had already reached the offices of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which issued an alert.
Studies showed that most of the media killings in the country have happened in the provinces where politicians like Polig reportedly have their own fiefdoms, together with warlords, corrupt military and police officials, and crime lords.
Still trembling as she related her experience while covering a festival in the Ifugao province, Catajan said that she and Cawis were “snapped at” by Polig, even to the point that guns were reportedly drawn.
Catajan and Cawis went to Alfonso Lista together with Department of Tourism-Cordillera regional director Purificacion Molintas last May 10 to cover the town’s festival.
After data gathering and taking photographs, they went to Polig’s house for an interview. Polig is a direct descendant of Alfonso Lista, after whom the town is named.
Catajan said that she first wanted to re-schedule the interview as it was already dark and raining heavily, but Polig said that he would be busy the following day. “I agreed to conduct the interview immediately,” Catajan said.
The interview was reportedly short as the two journalists were tired and hungry too. Polig, however, did not allow them to leave as he insisted that the two journalists should first drink with them. He was reportedly drinking with the town’s jail warden and several others.
At first, Polig was very nice, Catajan said. “Redjie (Cawis) sat beside me the whole time as he felt the men were picking on me based on the personal questions they asked when I stepped out to buy something at a nearby store.”
Polig who reportedly had too much to drink started an argument with the two journalists, Catajan said. He insisted their coverage was “illegal and accused us of trespassing. He claimed we have no work order from him.” He added that all dealings with the town had to pass through him.
Catajan and Cawis said that Mayor Charles Cattling invited them to cover the event through the Department of Tourism. “Polig did not listen. And at that point, we were alarmed because we noticed that Polig and his three companions were bringing out their guns.”
We wanted to leave the town but were stopped by Polig’s companions and an unidentified man wearing a bonnet and heavy sweater suddenly appeared, Catajan said.
“The incident,” NUJP’s Torres said, “is a classic example of how, in the Philippines, petty warlord-politicians can lord it over isolated communities, wielding virtual life and death powers that have time and again proven fatal for vigilant community journalists.”
Catajan said that they managed to flee and went to the Lagawe police station last May 11 to report the incident.
Ifugao Police Director Sr. Supt. Joseph Adnol said that the incident did happen but Polig denied drawing their guns to scare the journalists.
Cawis in his statement at the Lagawe police station said, “We may never prove we saw a gun, as there were no lights but we felt our lives were in danger.”
“Polig maligned us for covering the festival using Tagalog, English and Ilocano curses,” Catajan said.
For his part, Polig said that Catajan and Cawis were showing malicious public display of affection in front of him, insulting his position and presence. Cawis is an employee of the Philippine Information Agency-Cordillera Administrative Region (PIA-CAR) regional office in Baguio City. He also warned that when the matter goes out in the media, careers will be destroyed.
Catajan and Cawis said that they are currently worried about their security. Adnol said, however, that he does not know any official report that Polig has armed goons.
Torres said, “The general inaction to journalists killings by the national government in faraway Metro Manila, which appears to be inflicted with an `out of sight, out of mind’ attitude, if not downright apathy, has only served to embolden these enemies of press freedom. We demand that the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police immediately investigate the despicable action of Vice Mayor Polig.” (Bulatlat.com)