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Columnist survives grenade attack

(CMFR/IFEX) - A columnist based in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, survived a grenade attack on 31 July 2009. Laoag City is approximately 402 kilometers from Manila.

Businessman Steve Barriero, who writes a column for the community weekly "Ilocos Times," was unhurt. He said he was about to enter his home when the grenade exploded in an earthen jar approximately two meters away.

The water-filled jar helped shield him from the blast, but Barriero's house help, who was closing the gate at the time of the explosion, suffered abrasions on the cheek and throat. The left side of Barriero's vehicle was also damaged.

Barreiro told the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) in a phone interview that it was the first time he had been attacked as a media practitioner. He said he hired a security guard after a local official informed him about a month before the attack that he was being targeted.

He told CMFR he has written on various issues in government, but he suspects that his article "The Fugitive?" in his "In and Out" column in the 25 - 31 May 2009 issue of the "Ilocos Times" may have triggered the attack.

In the article, Barriero had alleged that Dingras town mayor, Marynette Gamboa, was wanted by the Ventura County Police Department in California, for possession of counterfeit checks and US dollars. He had cited articles from the US daily newspaper the "Los Angeles Times" to support his claim. Dingras is a town approximately 14 kilometers from Laoag City.

Gamboa denied that she is a "fugitive" from US law in an interview that appeared in the 29 June to 5 July 2009 issue of the "Ilocos Times where Barreiro also wrote a follow-up article entitled "The Fugitive? Part 2."

Gamboa also denied that she ordered the attack. In a phone interview with CMFR, she alleged that Barreiro himself may have staged the attack because she had announced in radio interviews that she would sue Barriero for libel.

"It was very unusual that the grenade landed in a jar," Gamboa said.

Barreiro said he has been a columnist for the news weekly for six years. He said he receives an honorarium for his work, but that his business is his main source of income. Barreiro said he was invited to write for the "Ilocos Times" by its publisher Efren Ramos Jr. who is also his cousin.
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