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Three government media staff hurt in shooting attack

(CMFR/IFEX) - Three practitioners from government media aboard a helicopter with military personnel survived a shooting attack by unidentified men in Basilan province on 16 August 2009, at around 10:45 a.m. (local time).

Television reporter George Bandola of the state-owned National Broadcasting Network-Channel 4, cameraman Egay Luciano and Office of the Press Secretary photographer Louie Iglesia were wounded during the attack in Basilan, a province in Mindanao approximately 901 kilometers from Manila.

Bandola told the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility in a phone interview that they were not wearing any protective gear such as bulletproof vests at the time. However, he said they were briefed by the military on the dangers of joining them.

Before the incident, the three covered a military flag-raising in Sitio (sub-village) Kurrelem, Barangay (village) Silangkum in Tipo-Tipo town, Basilan at around 8:00 a.m. The ceremony marked the capture of the supposed main camp of the Abu Sayyaf group, which is known for its kidnap-for-ransom operations.

He said the two UH-1H helicopters, better known as "Hueys", were returning to the Edwin Andrews Airbase, the headquarters of the Philippine Air Force in Zamboanga City which is around 38 kilometers from Basilan.

The helicopters were flying at low altitude when fired upon from the ground at the boundary of Tipo-Tipo and Al-Barka town, Basilan. Contrary to earlier reports, Bandola said soldiers aboard the helicopter fired back.

The transmission oil line of one of the helicopters was damaged, forcing the pilot to make a "precautionary landing" in Lamitan City, Basilan. The helicopter that carried the journalists also landed. Both helicopters sustained bullet holes.

"We were just so lucky we survived the attack," said Bandola who was brought to the Edwin Andrews Airbase clinic along with Luciano and Iglesia for treatment.

Media groups have called the attention of the police and military to the need to assure the safety of journalists and media practitioners who join their operations. On 3 June, tabloid reporter Jojo Trajano died during a police drug raid. Alleged drug syndicate members fired at the police team he was with.

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