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Journalist missing, others attacked, harassed in election-related incidents

(SEAPA/IFEX) - A Filipino journalist went missing shortly after reporting to the police that a provincial governor and his followers had mauled two members of a TV news crew, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).

Rolando Gono, a stringer for radio station Hot FM 106.3 in Cagayan de Oro City, southern Philippines, and who also writes for the weekly "Azilam Review" in the same city, sent an SMS message to his colleague Rene Abris on 9 May 2010 asking for help because he had been accosted by men he did not know. Gono has not been heard from since.

Abris said he and Gono had earlier gone to the police station in Catarman town in Camiguin island to report on the beating of TV 13 cable news reporters Herbert Hugo Dumaguing and his son, Hubert, allegedly by Camiguin Governor Jurdin Jesus "JJ" M. Romualdo and several of his men.

Herbert and his son said they caught several local officials and campaign officers distributing envelopes containing cash to villagers. However, before Hubert could shoot any video footage of the incident, the candidates and their men took notice and demanded that they stop filming. When they refused, the mob ganged up on the reporters. The elder Dumaguing claimed the governor was among those who attacked them. Only the presence of bystanders prevented the gunmen from shooting them, he said. Instead, he was pistol-whipped.

Their video camera, cell phones, keys to their motor bike, a crash helmet and a pair of sunglasses were confiscated.

The NUJP said police arrested one of the suspects. They also met with the governor but soon left without taking any action against him.

The Dumaguings are now under the protection of the Catarman police, the NUJP said.

Meanwhile, Abris said that after he had filed his report, Gono asked permission to return to Cagayan de Oro because his child was sick.

"A few minutes after he left, Gono sent an SMS message asking for help because he had been taken by people he did not know who were asking him where I was," NUJP quoted Abris as saying. He added that Gono had also texted a friend in Catarman the same plea for help.

"But when I tried to call his phone, he was no longer answering," Abris said.

In a related development, the NUJP issued a statement on 8 May noting the "increasing harassment of journalists and the curtailment of their right to pursue their profession by political parties and candidates seeking office in the 10 May elections".

The group also came out with an advisory for journalists, entitled "Covering the 2010 elections: A Survival Guide", which suggests steps media workers can take if they run into danger while covering the country's first automated elections.

The NUJP said in its statement that if the cases of harassment reported during the week of 3 May continued there was "little reason to be optimistic" about the outcome of the 10 May polls.

In a separate incident, online site gmanews.tv reported that journalists were prevented from interviewing Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Manuel Villar during a sortie in Pasig City on 5 May.

The NUJP chapter in Bulacan said organizers of a Liberal Party press conference also barred reporters not wearing the signature yellow color of their presidential candidate, Benigno Aquino III, from covering the event on 7 May.

Meanwhile, the NUJP chapter in Olongapo City reported that Mayor James Gordon Jr. and his men berated photojournalist David Bayarong, who administers the online Subic Times, and ejected him from a campaign rally for the mayor on 4 May. According to the NUJP, Bayarong's office was found burglarized the next day and his photographic equipment was stolen.

Finally, a journalist from the Bicol region, Bobby Militante, was reportedly harassed on 5 May by police escorts of Catanduanes vice-gubernatorial candidate Bong Tevez.

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