Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 22      July 9 - 15, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines








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The Radio station the farmers built

Radyo Cagayano: Burned but Not Silenced

After a three-year preparation, Radyo Cagayano started its test broadcast this May.  By July 2, the community radio was off the air, after armed men razed the station.  But its unfazed although shaken staff promise they would not be silenced permanently.


Susan Mapa remembered shedding tears of joy the first time Radyo Cagayano went on the air. Mapa is the station manager of dwRC 90.1 FM, a community radio station which began its test broadcast last May 25.  After three years of preparing and hurdling all obstacles, they were finally heard in the mountainous town of Baggao and its neighboring villages in Cagayan province (some 500 km. north of Manila).

On July 3, Mapa again shed tears, this time during a press conference at News Desk in Quezon City.  Armed men, suspected to be soldiers, razed the station July 2 early morning.  Mapa recounted how she and five other radio staff helplessly watched as the radio equipment, as well as their personal belongings inside the station, were burned. (Link sa breaking news July 3)

PEASANT VOICES: Radyo Cagayano anchors during the station’s broadcast training last April

Ang nararamdaman ko ngayon ay lungkot.  Pero alam kong sa bayan ng Baggao, hindi titigil ang mamamayan, dahil alam ko ang hirap nila sa pagtatayo ng Radyo Cagayano.” said Mapa, 32, and a former broadcaster for Bombo Radyo in Tuguegarao City in Cagayan.  (I am sad about what happened, but I know that the people of Baggao will not stop, because I know what they went through in putting up Radyo Cagayano.)

The five other radio crew who were hurt in the attack were Eric Ayudan, Arnold Agraan, Armalyn Badua, Joy Marcos, and Arlyn Arella.

Ilocano Love Songs

Radyo Cagayano had been mainly playing music, airing for only two hours, three times a day, for a total of six hours. The station did not have an air conditioner and the radio transmitter had to be turned off to cool down after every two hours of broadcast.

Mapa said that she and the station crew took turns disc jockeying, music spinning and reading greetings, text messages and dedication. Ilocano love songs, such as Agbabakket  (Old Woman) were the most requested.

Radyo Cagayano after the fire

High school and elementary students would flock to the station after school, to request and dedicate songs, or to simply greet on air.  “Mama, andito ako,” (Mama, I’m here at the station) Mapa recalled how young students would give simple messages on air.  She said some parents were glad to have their children hanging around the station, instead of loitering elsewhere.

When they learned about the station’s burning, listeners of the community radio were distraught and were immediately by the staff’s side. 

“Why would anyone want to burn dwRC?”  Mapa quoted a question by a peasant listener. Indeed, why would anyone want to block the airing of a small, one-kilowatt community radio, run by amateur, peasant broadcasters and plays mostly music?

Mapa said that for three years, the airing of the community radio had been blocked by elements of the military, namely those under the 5th Infantry Division. She said that their main suspects were soldiers of the 17th Infantry Battalion, who have been spreading black propaganda against dwRC, saying it was a radio station of the New People’s Army (NPA).

At the press conference, Mapa was joined by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the World Association of Community Broadcasters. The media groups said that what happened to dwRC is clearly media repression.

Mapa said that the perpetrators were threatened by what the community radio could bring to the airwaves.  Radyo Cagayano is a community radio owned by the Alyansa Dagiti Mannalon iti Cagayan or Kagimungan  (Provincial Peasant Alliance of Cagayan), a Cagayan Valley region-wide peasant organization. 

Aside from playing music, Mapa said that they were airing informative plugs and practical tips, such as herbal medicine and preventive medicine.  Had the station not been burned, informative talk shows catering to peasants, youths and women would have been lined up for airing this month. 

Built by Peasants

Isabelo Adviento, general secretary of Kagimungan, said that the peasants wanted a voice and that they have long waited for the broadcast of dwRC.

Ang Radyo Cagayano ay hindi pag-aari ng isang tao, kundi ito ay pag-aari ng buong mamamayan.  Maraming nagsakripisyo at naghirap para maitayo ang isang radyo na maglilingkod sa mamamayan,maging sandigan sa pagpapahayag ng aming hinaing at karaingan,” he said. (Radyo Cagayano is owned not by one person but by the people. Many have sacrificed to build a station that will serve the people, and be a channel to express our grievances.)  

The day dwRC was burned down was Armalyn Badua’s 23rd birthday. The wounds she sustained on her legs that day were caused by explosions of burning equipment.

Funding for Radyo Cagayano, released in 2003, came from the congressional development fund of Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo. The funds paid for the radio equipment, the tower and the construction of the station. 

But it was the peasants of Baggao and neighboring towns that moved hollow blocks, sand and cement up the hill where the station was built. Farmers, teachers and other radio listeners donated the furniture which were mainly benches, tables and shelves. This year, friends and neighbors donated plates, pots, water jug and other kitchen ware, light bulbs and even the paint that was used inside the booth.

Mapa recalled that the community radio had their first batch of broadcasters trained as early as 2003.  But its airing was delayed due to several problems.

Military Harassment

On July 1, 2003, a few days before the groundbreaking rites at the station’s site, a group of soldiers in civilian clothes attacked four Kagimungan leaders – namely, Adviento, Joey Javier, Ronald Reyes and Benito Abarrientos – who were on their way home after clearing weeds and bushes at the site. The soldiers pretended to be drunken civilians arguing by the roadside, then jumped on the passing peasant leaders who were on board a hand tractor.

Javier, then Kagimungan chair, was hit by a soldier’s bolo on the left arm.  The leaders identified the leader of their attackers as Capt. George Domingo, the detachment commander of the 41st Infantry Battalion stationed in Baggao. The leaders charged the soldiers with frustrated murder, but a local court acquitted the latter. Javier’s veins in his wrist were severely injured, making him lose muscle control of his left arm.  

After the attack, the groundbreaking rites still pushed through on July 6, 2003, despite the presence of the military who positioned themselves by the roadside leading to the site.  Still, some 500 peasants attended the activity from Baggao and nearby towns.

The construction of the station was completed in 2003, but the setting up of the community radio, however dragged on, with most of the staff having shifted to other interests and to other jobs. 

Battling Termites and Lightning

The station covered an area of three by six meters, built like a container van with iron sheets for walls.  The interior walls had a double panel of ply board.  The floor was also made of wood. The station’s builders however did not treat the ground, which was infested with termites. Before dwRC was even launched, termites had eaten up the inner walls, the floor, as well as the egg trays, which lined the walls to soundproof the radio booth. The station underwent major repairs before it finally began operation this May.

Last year, the peasant group Kagimungan delegated a staff to finally get the community radio on the air, but the efforts were again met by problems. 

In November 2005, the dwRC staff applied to get electrical connection to the station. The electric company however required permission from the village council before approving the connection. For its part, the barangay (village) captain of Baggao Centro attempted to get the station out of the community by conducting a survey on whether the residents favored the setting up of the station. 

The newly formed staff of the radio station found out that the village head was changing the survey question and manipulating the results to get them out of the village. Kagimungan then conducted a counter-survey which they presented to the barangay council. It showed that the barangay population wanted the community radio, and the barangay council had no choice but to allow its operation.

By January 2006, the station had electricity to use.

A week after its first airing, dwRC was temporarily cut off the air after the antenna was struck by lightning.  Fortunately, the rest of the station’s equipment had electrical grounding and were not affected. Mapa said that they put up the antenna on top of a nearby gmelina tree, and resumed airing after a week.

Voice of the peasants

The Radyo Cagayano staff consisted of volunteers aged 17 to 25, all coming from peasant families in Baggao town. They were all members of different village chapters of Kagimungan. Most had finished only secondary education, and had undergone a short training on broadcasting just last April. Mapa said that the staff knew that working for a non-profit, community radio entails much work but no income, yet they were all committed. The staff also knew about the military harassment on the community radio.

With their lack of broadcast training experience, some of the young staff were even “buckling,” stammering or hesitating as they spoke on air as DJs. Each had their share of  “dead air,” or the unwanted silence during broadcast. Yet listeners tuned in to dwRC, as the voices they heard were peasant voices like their own, the music played were their kind of music.

As Mapa traveled from Baggao to Manila for the press conference, the other dwRC staffs also went around local radio stations in Cagayan Valley to give their account of the burning.

Mapa recalled how she and the five radio crew were at a loss in the July 2 early morning attack at the station.  “Anong gagawin natin?” they asked each other, while the arsonists escaped. (What are we going to do?)

Magpapatuloy pa rin ang Radyo Cagayano,,” said Mapa. (Radyo Cagayo will still continue.) Kagimungan sources said there are initial plans to raise funds to rebuild the radio station.

The community radio built by peasants is not about to be silenced permanently. Bulatlat



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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