By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is again going after a journalist who is merely doing his job.
This is the charge of the regional farmers’ group Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (Amgl, Farmers’ Alliance in Central Luzon) as it condemned the recent acts of harassment and the threats levelled against veteran journalist Ding Cervantes. Cervantes is a correspondent of the Philippine Star and columnist of Punto Central Luzon newspaper. He is based in Angeles City, Pampanga and a member of National Union of Journalist in the Philippines (NUJP).
AMGL chairman Joseph Canlas said the AFP has trained its attention on Cervantes because the journalist was committed to writing about sensitive issues in the region, among them the continuing struggle of farmworkers in Hacienda Luisita, the killing of Dutch development worker Wilhelmus JJ Lutz Geertman, the controversies surrounding the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco) project, protests against mining operations in Zambales, and other agrarian issues.
“Journalists are being targeted for merely doing their job. We have not forgotten what happened to the media practitioners who were killed in the Maguindanao massacre. The attacks against Cervantes must stop, and we charge the AFP as being behind it. The harassment against Cervantes is part of the Aquino’s administration’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan,” Canlas said.
Canlas relayed how Cervantes exposed having received a text from an unidentified sender. The text, sent last August 24, read “Isang bala ka lang,” literally meaning it will take only one bullet to take Cervantes’ life.
That weekend, Cervantes said his house was subjected to surveillance and that he again received a threatening text message. The texter claimed he or she was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA), but Cervantes dismissed it, expressing doubt that the NPA would issue such a threat against him being a civilian and a journalist.
In a report on Intreaksyon5, Cervantes was quoted as saying that he saw a man looking at the closed sari-sari store that his family owned. Cervantes was taking out his car from the garage, and as he maneuvered it so that it faced the man, Cervantes saw him using his cellphone.
Later on when he returned from his errand, Cervantes said he saw the same man and noticed that there was a pistol tucked on his right hip. When the man noticed Cervantes looking at him, he turned around and acted as if he was texting “and then walked away fast.”
The threatening texts were sent from the mobile number +639435052612, which he eventually showed to the police in Mabalacat, Pampanga where he filed a report on the incidents of harassment.
Interaksyon 5 said the text Cervantes received at 9:18 a.m. on Saturday, August 25 read: “Wag kang palaban. May nagmamatyag sayo dyan sa bahay mo at kahit san ka punta. Nakasalalay buhay mo sa amin. NPA” (Don’t be feisty. Someone is monitoring you in your house and wherever you go. Your life depends on us. NPA).
Later that night 8:30 p.m., another message said: “Huling babala eto. Wag ka sumbong pulis may kapit din kami. At teritoryo namig ng NPA di lang bamban pati dyan.”(This is the final warning. Don’t dare tell the police, we also have connections with them. And Bamban [Tarlac] is not our only territory but your area too).
Oplan Bayanihan attacks press freedom
“This is exactly what Oplan Bayanihan is, neutralizing those from the middle sector who support the issues of the oppressed farmers and basic sectors even only through articles. Press freedom is truly under siege, as the Aquino government idly stands by as the lives of journalists who expose the ill-effects of its program and policies on the people,” Canlas said.
Previously the AMGL has exposed how the implementation of Oplan Bayanihan in the region has reached second gear, escalating from the phase of civic-military and pyschological warfare(psywar) operations, to direct assault such as extra-judicial killings. Last July, the Dutch development executive Geertman was killed in Angeles City, while Bayan Muna leader Romualdo Palispis was killed on June 30 in Maria Aurora town, Aurora province.
“We hold the Aquino government responsible if harm befalls Cervantes. We support Cervantes’ struggle against this harassment and violation of press freedom. We vow to help protect Cervantes’ basic rights and call on other media practictioners to defend freedom of the press in the region,” Canlas said.
13 Journalists killed under Aquino’s watch
According to the National Union of Journalist of the Philippines, 13 journalists have already been killed since Aquino assumed office. The most recent murders were those of Mati City broadcaster Nestor Libaton who was killed last May 8, San Pablo City’s Michael Calanasan on April 24, and Koronadal’s Rommel Palma on April 30.
Earlier this year, General Santos City’ Christopher Guarin was slain on January 5, and Davao City’s Aldion Lavao on April 8.
In a statement, the NUJP said that the blood of the 13 journalists is on the Aquino administration’s hands and conscience.
“Each and every one of the 153 media killings since 1986 that remains unsolved to this day should rightly be deemed a matter of State accountability. Each murder that remains unsolved is a failure to fulfill the State’s supreme obligation to protect life and render justice,” it said.
The NUJP also decried that while there is no indication the liquidation of journalists is government policy, President Aquino often “whines about and all but demonizes media for performing their duty of being the watchdog against official abuse.” It said that Aquino’s complaints against the media serves to further emboldening those who would silence the press.
The press freedom advocacy group also said that much has to be condemned about Aquino’s failure to make good on his pledge of transparency in government. It said that making it a linchpin of his presidential campaign and his subsequent insistence that only his version would do, the Freedom of Information bill remains in legislative limbo despite Aquino’s allies being in control of the House of Representatives.
“He was able to will them into railroading the impeachment of the discredited former Chief Justice, the same House that still refuses to decriminalize libel,” it pointed out. “Many of its members are loathe to let go of a weapon they have wielded again and again to intimidate critics, notwithstanding that the United Nations Human Rights Committee has decreed criminal libel in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”