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Two ABS-CBN network journalists receives death threats after reporting on election irregularities

(CMFR/IFEX) - A television and radio reporter for the ABS-CBN network each received death threats in Lanao del Norte, a province located in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), after reporting election irregularities in the province. ARMM is in Mindanao, the second largest and southernmost island of the Philippines.

On 28 May 2007, the ABS-CBN television news program TV Patrol World reported on the threats received by reporters Ricky Carandang and Noel Alamar, which came after they covered election anomalies in Lanao. Carandang is a television reporter/anchor while Alamar reports for DZMM, the flagship AM station of the ABS-CBN broadcasting corporation.

ABS-CBN news and current affairs head Maria Ressa released a statement on the 29 May 2007 episode of TV Patrol World condemning the incident.

"ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs condemns in the strongest possible terms, these attempts to intimidate the members of our newsgathering team. We would like to warn those involved that their identities are known to us," Ressa said.

Ressa also added that they are "prepared to take legal action should these threats continue or should any harm come to Mr. Carandang, Mr. Alamar, or any member of ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs."

According to Carandang, his guides in the province have received calls from people inquiring about his whereabouts. Armed men, whom Carandang suspects are members of private armies, are also roaming the province looking for him.

The threats came after Carandang reported on TV Patrol that officials of the provincial treasurer's office in the provincial capital of Lanao del Sur had complained that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had illegally carted away blank election returns (ER).

Carandang's ABS-CBN crew caught footage of the blank ERs being carted away by Comelec employees led by Renault "Boy" Macarambon, vice-chair of the Lanao del Sur board of canvassers in the 2004 elections. He was mentioned in the "Hello Garci" recordings (a political scandal and electoral crisis in the Philippines) as the then-elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano's alleged pointman in the region.

The "Hello, Garci" tapes were a series of wiretapped conversations believed to be between President Arroyo and Garcillano discussing the rigging of the elections. Lanao was believed to be at the center of massive election rigging in the 2004 elections.

In a segment of the recording, a voice believed to be that of President Gloria Arroyo asked if she will still lead by a million votes, to which a voice believed to be that of Garcillano replied in Filipino, "His (referring to the late Fernando Poe Jr. who was Arroyo's rival in the 2004 elections) count is high, but that will be compensated for in Lanao."

On the issue of the verification and distribution of official ballots and ERs, section 189 of the Philippines' Omnibus Election Code gives the provincial and municipal treasurer the responsibility to "verify the contents of the boxes containing the shipment of official ballots, election returns and sample official ballots received by the said treasurers. The provincial treasurers shall keep a record of their receipt and distribution to each municipal treasurer, while the city and municipal treasurer shall each keep a record of their distribution to the board of election inspectors."

Carandang's team afterward found the ERs being stored in the Maria Cristina Hotel in Iligan City, Lanao del Norte, an hour away from the provincial capital in Lanao del Sur.

In his report, Carandang asked Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento why ERs were being stored in the hotel, which Sarmiento denied, although Sarmiento's signature was affixed to the pullout order of ERs from the provincial capital. Carandang afterwards showed the footage he had taken on his cellular phone showing stacks of blank ERs being delivered to the hotel. Sarmiento smiled and said that he would willingly resign should any election irregularity happen.

"Absolutely," said Carandang when asked if the threats he received were in relation to his report. Carandang also said that his station has received news that a certain official's vote tampering operation had been bungled due to the report. Carandang left Lanao on 29 May 2007, while Sarmiento resigned on 28 May 2007 as head of the Task Force Maguindanao, citing health reasons. Task Force Maguindanao was formed to investigate allegations of vote-rigging in Maguindanao where the administration scored a 12-0 sweep in the senatorial elections. Lanao del Sur is part of the Maguindanao region.

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