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Government official threatens journalists, media excluded from public hearing

(IFJ/IFEX) - October 19, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is disturbed by repeated threats made against journalists by a local government official and the exclusion of media from a public hearing in the northern Philippines.

Vice Mayor Dexter David of Porac town in Pampanga, in the northern Philippines, allegedly said: "I'm going to shoot you! I'm not kidding!" to DWGV-AM broadcasters Arnel Panganiban and Gary Bernardo on October 1, when he arrived at the opening of a 7-Eleven store in Subic, in the neighboring province of Zambales.

The Pampanga chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), an IFJ affiliate, said the threats are related to reporting of an ongoing dispute in the municipality over piggeries and poultry farms in the area, which residents claim are bringing unwanted smells and plagues of flies to the town.

David, who is the Director of Porac Swine Breeders Incorporated, also allegedly made threats against Sun Star Pampanga reporter Charlene Cayabyab after she reported a community rally against hog and poultry farms on September 24. David allegedly said in a phone call to the newspaper's editor Jovie De Leon that Cayabyab should: "not make a mistake in going to Porac, or something bad might happen to her" and warned that his wife is the niece of one of the newspaper's owners.

Reporters were locked out of a public hearing conducted by Porac Municipal Council on October 8, which brought together representatives of the livestock industry and concerned citizens in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

"Politicians and government officials using threats and other forms of intimidation to attempt to influence public debate is unfortunately an all too familiar situation in the Philippines," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"The IFJ calls on provincial officials to respect the right of journalists to report matters of concern to the community, ensure that threats cease and guarantee that meetings are open to all media representatives."

The restrictions placed on media covering the story prompted community members to approach the NUJP Pampanga chapter, which responded with a resolution to provincial authorities, including former president Gloria Arroyo, who is a Member of the House of Representatives for Pampanga District 2.

The NUJP resolution condemned David's threats against journalists and the tacit support of Mayor Condralito de la Cruz, who did not overrule David's proposal to lock media out of the public meeting.
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