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Photojournalist held at provincial governor's house

(CMFR/IFEX) - A photojournalist was detained and interrogated at the house of Iloilo Governor Niel Tupas Sr. on 16 October 2009 for "taking photos of the house without permission." Iloilo is a province approximately 467 kilometers from Manila.

Photojournalist Tara Yap was checking the construction at the Tupas family's house in Jaro, Iloilo City, "as part of an investigative report on the lifestyle of public officials." Yap works for the Iloilo newspaper "The Daily Guardian". She is also a correspondent for Agence France-Presse and the broadsheet "Manila Bulletin".

In a 20 October phone interview with CMFR, Yap said she was about to leave as she saw no activity at the house when two men, who later turned out to be Tupas's employees, stopped her. She was in a taxi approximately 150 feet from the gate.

"They told me to get out and they searched my belongings," she said in the 20 October interview. Yap said she identified herself as a journalist and even explained her presence there. She also showed the contents of her camera to prove that she had not taken any photos.

The men confiscated Yap's two mobile phones and digital camera and escorted her into the mansion. She was held for 20 minutes. Yap said in the phone interview that she had to follow the order because she didn't know what they would do to her if she refused.

The governor's daughter Nielette "Tweety" Tupas-Balleza, who is also an executive assistant to her father, allegedly also talked to Yap over one of the employees' phones. Balleza accused her of taking photos and video footage showing government-owned trucks being used at the Tupas family's other house in Banate town. Yap denied this, explaining that her camera, a Canon 350D, does not have video capabilities. ("The Daily Guardian" explained in a news report that the video and photos of Tupas's property in Banate town was given to it by a source. Yap's photos of the Banate house taken during the verification of the source's information were never published.)

The photojournalist was only released after talking to a certain Joenar Pueblo from the provincial legal office who "acknowledged that the act was in line with investigative journalism," she said in her report to the police.

Rey De Ramas, the caretaker of the Tupas mansion, reported Yap to the Jaro police station 3, accusing her of "unjust vexation" and "invasion of privacy".

Provincial Administrator Manuel "Boy" Mejorada said Yap's "suspicious" actions (being in a taxi while taking photos or video) prompted the actions of the employees.

"The Governor's personnel interrogated Tara Yap because they were worried and suspicious of what Tara Yap was doing," the Bombo Radyo radio station reported, based on an interview with Mejorada.

Mejorada also alleged that Yap was a "spy" sent by their political rival. In his blog, Mejorada said that ". . . Tara Yap was taking video footage upon orders of Congressman Ferjenel Biron to be exhibited as proof of his accusation that Governor Tupas had amassed 'unexplained wealth' during his incumbency as provincial chief executive."

Yap denied the allegation that she was sent by Rep. Biron. "If I'm a spy why was I wearing an ID (press identification card)," Yap said.

"On my part, there was no malice. I was only doing my job. . . ," she said in a 20 October e-mail to CMFR. Yap said she will sue Tupas and his men for illegally detaining her.

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