“What is wrong and what violation is committed by Radyo Natin Guimba when it only gives voice to the people in order for their appeals and complaints to be heard while they are under quarantine and are unable to work?”
By RAYMUND B. VILLANUEVA
Kodao Productions/ Bulatlat.com
MANILA — A radio station based in Guimba, Nueva Ecija condemned the threats of criminal charges by a local government unit using the government’s anti-coronavirus emergency law.
In a statement, Radyo Natin-Guimba (RNG) said the Guimba Municipal Council’s recent resolution authorizing Mayor Jose Dizon to file charges against the radio station for alleged violations to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020 or Republic Act 11469 is a direct violation to press freedom.
The station added that the Council’s move is also tantamount to the suppression of the people’s right to demand assistance and relief amid massive loss of livelihood resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
RNG explained that because of the slow distribution of the national government’s Social Amelioration Program by the LGU, many townsfolk went to their station to broadcast complaints.
“What is wrong and what violation is committed by Radyo Natin Guimba when it only gives voice to the people in order for their appeals and complaints to be heard while they are under quarantine and are unable to work?” RNG said in a statement in Filipino.
Many of the complaints arose from reports that some SAP beneficiaries were rich farmers while many poor peasants have been left out, the station added.
“Some elderly, lactating mothers, pregnant women, solo parents and poor families asked help through our station and complained of discrimination by Barangay health workers, day care workers, Barangay Chairperson and the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office,” the media outfit added.
RNG also said Guimba police also prevented them from taking photos and videos of people lining up to complain about being excluded from SAP.
Elderly complainants were holding up placards saying “Nasaan ang ayuda?” (Where is the assistance?) “Protektahan ang matatanda.” (Protect the elderly.) “Help us.” “Nagugutom na kami!” (We are already starving!) that the local police also threatened to file charges against, RNG said.
The police also took Ina Jo Colcol, a resident of Brangay Balingog East, and Dexter Eusebio of Barangay Sta. Veronica to the local police headquarters and ordered to delete their photos and videos last May 4, the station revealed.
A RNG field reporter was also prevented from taking photos and videos of the people who trooped to the municipal mayor’s office to appeal their SAP exclusion, the station revealed.
Other attacks on press freedom
Before the town council session last May 11, Municipal Councilor Bonbon Dizon, son of Mayor Dizon, confiscated RNG field reporter Lina Villaflor’s media identification cards issued by the Presidential Communications and Operations Office and the station and took photos of them, RNG reported.
The councilor passed the identification cards’ details to Nueva Ecija assessor OJ Manuel Cornejo via a phone call, RNG said.
It was at the May 11 session that the Council approved Sangguniang Bayan Resolution No. 52 s.2020 allowing the filing of criminal charges against RNG by the mayor.
In an emergency meeting of Guimba’s League of Barangay Chairpersons, Cornejo–reportedly a frequent presence at the mayor’s office while the head of a provincial government office–publicly declared the planned charges against RNG.
Last May 18, RNG’s reporter was told to leave the session room as the topic being discussed was “sensitive.”
Last May 19, local police again confronted a RNG reporter covering the distribution of rice seeds to farmers.
The police reportedly told the reporter to first seek a permit from Mayor Dizon.
“We will not agree to the harassment by the LGU. It is our duty to report truthfully and give the people accurate information as is their right. We do not agree that press freedom is a violation to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” RNG said in its statement.
In a phone interview with Kodao, however, Guimba municipal information officer Sherwin Guiuo denied RNG’s allegation of harassment by the mayor and the council.
“The LGU acted on reports from barangays officials that some whose photos were posted online reacted negatively to RNG’s uploads. In the first place, they are not hungry as the LGU was in fact distributing relief,” Guiuo said.
The officer claimed the resolution is not harassment but obedience to RA 11469’s Section 6 on penalties.
Section 6’s item F orders penalties on “individuals or groups creating or perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the Covid-19 crisis on social media and other platforms.”
The resolution, however, does not mention alleged false information peddled by RNG.
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines Chairperson Nonoy Espina however said the LGU’s actions and plans against RNG are abusive.
“The harassment of RNG and its staff by the Guimba LGU is a shameless trampling on freedom of the press and on the right of their own constituents to know what is happening in the municipality,” Espina said.
“This is clear abuse of authority that has no place in a democracy,” Espina added.
RNG is a member of both the Manila Broadcasting Company’s Radyo Natin project and People’s Alternative Media Network.