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Two radio broadcasters escape ambush

(CMFR/IFEX) - A gunman riding pillion on a motorcycle shot at two "block time" radio broadcasters after they emerged from their radio station on 25 October 2007 in Digos, Davao del Sur, a province approximately 680 kilometres south of Manila. The Philippines had its baranggay (village) elections on 29 October.

"Block timing" is a widespread practice in radio broadcasting in the Philippines, where radio stations lease blocks of time to individuals who, in turn, generate money from their programmes through advertisements or through a sponsor.

Block timers Marlan Malnegro and Ruben Oliverio, who had just finished their radio programmes on dxDS Radio Ukay (Dig), were riding on their own motorcycles on their way home when an unknown assailant riding pillion with another individual on a motorcycle drew a handgun and fired at them. The incident happened at about 8:15 a.m. (local time) on Gumao-as Street, about 200 metres away from the Radio Ukay station on Rizal Avenue.

Malnegro told the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) that he and Oliverio were not hurt. The would-be assassin, according to Malnegro, tried to fire a second shot, but the gun apparently jammed.

"After the first shot was fired, Ruben and I sped away toward the mayor's office. I then saw them (the would-be killers) retreat to a nearby compound," Malnegro said.

Malnegro and Oliverio proceeded to the office of Digos City Mayor Arsenio Latasa, who is the sponsor of their block time radio programme. Oliverio hosts the 7:00-7:30 a.m. block time programme "Gabayan" (Guidance), while Malnegro hosts the 7:30-8:00 a.m. programme "Dangpanan" (Grievance desk), both sponsored by the local government headed by Latasa. "Gabayan", which has been on the air since 2001, provides developmental news about local government projects, while "Dangpanan" focuses on political commentaries.

After seeking temporary refuge at Latasa's city office, Malnegro and Oliverio proceeded to the local police precinct to file a complaint. The police force later provided each of the radio broadcasters with a bodyguard.

Malnegro, who serves as the media and public relations consultant for Latasa as well as the chairperson of the Tri-Media Association in Davao del Sur, believes the attack was "politically motivated", triggered by the then-ongoing campaign for village elections.

Digos police chief Major Cezar Cabuhat, who said that they are already closing in on certain suspects, told CMFR that the attack may be related to Malnegro and Oliverio's media work.

Days prior to the incident, Malnegro told CMFR that he had questioned the provincial government's scholarship programme on air, saying that it was not well explained to the people. Oliverio, on the other hand, said he was not aware of any issue he may have tackled on his programme that might have provoked the incident.

Armando Pace, who was killed on 18 July 2006, had also worked as a block timer for dxDS Radyo Ukay and was known to be a hard-hitting political commentator (see IFEX alert of 18 July 2006). Of the 70 journalists killed in the line of duty since 1986 in the Philippines, some 42 worked for radio.

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