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Journalist allegedly threatened, "banned" from covering military following critical coverage

(CMFR/IFEX) - A freelance journalist told CMFR that she has been threatened and banned from military camps by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, apparently for writing stories on the armed conflict in Mindanao, Southern Philippines. The military has denied her allegations.

Julie Alipala, who files stories for the "Philippine Daily Inquirer", online magazine "Newsbreak" and the television network IBC-13, said that junior officers of the military in Mindanao have advised her to be careful in her stories because they overheard their superiors as saying "How could we silence her (Alipala)? She is such a pain . . ."

Alipala has written stories about the conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Mindanao and the Abu Sayyaf group and Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The conflict in Mindanao escalated after 14 marines were killed, 10 of them beheaded, just as they were returning to base after a fruitless search for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan on 10 July 2007. Basilan is an island 900 km south of Manila.

Alipala also told CMFR that military agents, allegedly under the command of Marine Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban, followed and accosted her and her five-year-old son inside a mall, asked her who her sources for her stories were, and said that she was "wanted" by Gen. Sabban. Alipala said the military agents let her go when she refused to answer their questions.

Alipala also told CMFR that Sabban, who is the deputy commander of the Western Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces, has also "banned" her from covering the military. According to Alipala, the Armed Forces has refused her access to some headquarters, where other reporters roam freely, and snubbed her requests for interviews.

Sabban, however, told CMFR that he did not ban Alipala. Neither did he order his men to follow and harass her.

"That is not true. There is no directive coming from me (banning her)," Sabban said. "She is just dreaming things up," Sabban added.

Lt. Col. Bartolome Baccaro, who heads the public information office of the Armed Forces, also said that there is no directive banning Alipala from Mindanao military camps. "There is no such order (banning Alipala). We do not discriminate," Baccaro told CMFR.

Alipala said that the incident has not affected her work as a journalist. "As long, as what I am doing is right, nothing will hinder me from doing it," she said.

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