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Military intimidation of journalists continues

(IFJ/IFEX) - August 4, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is dismayed by reports of continuing intimidation of the Philippines media by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under the newly installed Aquino administration.

Manila Standard Today reporter Florante "Bong" Solmerin was reportedly manhandled by officials at the country's main military installation, Camp Aguinaldo, in Quezon City on July 30, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), an IFJ affiliate.

Solmerin, who is also president of the Philippines Defence Press Corps (DPC), acknowledges he had forgotten to display his official identification when entering the facility, and that he exchanged "heated words" with officers.

He claims they continued to intimidate and question him despite his attempts to explain his presence and show his credentials when questioned. He tried to leave to avoid further confrontation, but two officers continued to yell at him and refused to return his identification.

Solmerin was then pursued by the officers, who tried to punch him, before taking him to the office of deputy camp commander Navy Captain Miguel Fio Sequisame.

Sequisame threatened to ban Solmerin from Camp Aguinaldo and referred to the media killings that plague the Philippines. He was reported to have said, "You know sometimes we soldiers no longer wonder why these things happen to you in the media."

Solmerin was also questioned about who had authored a report in the press which detailed an alleged illegal "beer joint" operating within the military complex.

"The IFJ held optimism that a new political administration in the Philippines would bring an end to the mistreatment of journalists at the hands of the military," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"It is the responsibility of President Benigno Aquino to do everything within his power to end the disgraceful press freedom record of his country, which includes how military personnel interact with the media."

The IFJ also reminds President Aquino of the recommendation in its Action Plan for the Philippines for a training program to address the way military, police, elected officials and government employees interact with the media.

Solmerin's case is the first major reported incident of intimidation of a journalist by the military since Aquino took office on June 30. However, defence reporters Eden Magcarlas, from Net 25, GMA 7 cameraman Jun Fronda and Hataw columnist Joel Egco said they experienced similar behaviour on August 3, despite displaying their official press cards.

Solmerin has lodged a complaint with AFP Chief of Staff General Ricardo David, who recently announced plans to strengthen the armed forces' Human Rights Offices, and is reported to be working with human rights groups to improve the AFP's human rights record.

Dateline Philippines reports that DPC officials will meet military representatives today to open dialogue over the series of incidents.

The IFJ reiterates the demands of the NUJP calling for a full investigation and appropriate sanctions against the officers involved in the most recent incidents.

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