“Yes, we may be small and insignificant against their boastful might, but when we band together and speak up, we shall prevail!”
By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA– After the Office of the Ombudsman dismissed the motion of reconsideration filed by Davao-based journalist Margarita “Ging” Valle, the journalist said she “cannot allow this transgression to continue without a fight.”
“Yes, we may be small and insignificant against their boastful might, but when we band together and speak up, no matter if our voices may seem just mere whimpers as against their loud mouth curses and insults, we shall prevail!” Valle said in an online press conference held by the National of Union of Journalists of the Philippines today, Thursday, Aug. 12.
The Ombudsman dismissed the administrative and criminal charges filed by Valle against 17 military and police officers who arrested and detained her for almost 12 hours in June 2019. Only two perpetrators, per the Ombudsman decision, were held liable for simple neglect of duty and were ordered suspended for three months without pay.
Following that decision in October 2020, Valle’s lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers then filed a motion for reconsideration.
However, on June 24, 2021, the Ombudsman junked Valle’s motion of reconsideration, citing that the veteran journalist failed to provide new evidence or present proof of errors committed by the Ombudsman that would warrant a reversal of their previous decision.
During the press conference, human rights lawyer Kathy Panguban of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said that they plan to bring this before the Supreme Court.
“Ms. Valle is resolved to appeal the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman to the higher court,” said Panguban, adding that they are confident that they have enough evidence to overturn the previous decision and prove that what happened to Valle was not a simple case of mistaken identity.
“There is no question that Ms. Valle was detained and arrested by the police and military personnel on June 9, 2019, without any lawful cause. Mistaken identity has never been a lawful cause to arrest and detain a person,” she said.
Chilling effect continues
Valle was emotional during the press conference, admitting that ever since the incident, she has yet to go back to writing as she always finds herself drawing blank.
“Two years have passed, yet all I can muster each and every day is to do mundane tasks (like) household chores, pretending that I am ‘okay,’” said Valle.
“Though I am continuously making effort, it is difficult to go back to writing again,” she said. Valle used to write regular columns about the plight of the indigenous people in Mindanao before the incident.
Her arrest also had an undeniable effect on the local media community in Mindanao.
Kath Cortez, NUJP vice-chair and safety officer, said that after Valle’s arrest in Laguindingan airport, the red-tagging against the veteran journalist did not stop. Instead, she was continuously red-tagged, where she was dubbed as a ranking officer of different armed groups in the area.
“There’s also the continuing cases of red-tagging against other Mindanao journalists such as Pam Orias, Cong Corrales, Froilan Gallardo, XL Fuentes, and even Davao Today,” added Cortez.
“We can say that the attacks did not stop there, instead it had escalated. Alternative media outfits in Mindanao are regularly red-tagged as media fronts of these groups,” she said.
A need to sustain the campaign
The NUJP and the International Association for Women in Radio and Television Philippines (IAWRT Philippines), in their respective statements, said that they are united in their call to exact accountability.
IAWRT Philippines President Lynda Garcia pointed out that this is not an isolated case, citing the arrest of journalists Lady Ann Salem and Frenchie Mae Cumpio. Salem was released on March 5, 2021 while Cumpio remains in detention.
“We sustain this campaign to drive the importance of safety for our female journalists, and as a way to support them from the trauma they continuously experience after such an ordeal,” said Garcia, adding that their group hopes to “spread awareness on the type of danger journalists continuously face in their line of work.”
NUJP Chairperson Jonathan de Santos agreed, adding that it is important to sustain the campaign and hold the ones in power accountable for what they did.
“We want the people to know that this is how they treat journalists, and this is what could happen to journalists. And if we don’t push back, these kinds of incidents will continue to happen to journalists in the future,” said De Santos.