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Senior Philippine journalist subjected to death threats, intimidation

(IFJ/IFEX) - August 29, 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists Philippines in condemning the physical intimidation and death threats made against veteran journalist Ding Cervantes from Pampanga, Mabalacat.

Cervantes, a correspondent at the Philippine Star and a member of the National Union of Journalists Philippines, told investigators from the Dau police station that he first received a threatening text message late on Friday August 24 saying "You're just good for a bullet." Cervantes dismissed the message and erased it from his phone.

On the afternoon of Saturday August 15, Cervantes reported that a man was casing his house. "The man was watching our closed store at the other end of the fence of our home lot as I was backing out my car from the garage. When I rolled my car out facing him, he turned around to send a text on his phone."

When Cervantes returned home with his brother later that evening, he saw, "the same person, with his pistol bulging from his right hip, was again there near the gate". The man again turned around and looked to be texting on his phone and "walking away fast."

The morning of Sunday August 26, as he went out to feed his dog, Cervantes said a man was peeping inside the gate of his house saying, "he's here, he's here," and then walking away. Rushing inside his house, Cervantes peered out the window and saw the man talking on his mobile phone. Soon after, he again began receiving threatening messages from the same number as the original message sent on August 24.

One text received at 9:18 a.m. said: "Don't be feisty. Someone is monitoring you in your house and wherever you go. Your life depends on us. NPA."

Cervantes dismissed any involvement of the New People's Army. "I have been in journalism for decades and I would know what's really from NPA and when the NPA is merely being used to intimidate," he said.

At 8:30 p.m., another message was received: "This is the final warning. Don't dare tell the police, we also have connections with them. And Bamban [Tarlac] is not our only territory but your area too."

This is not the first time Cervantes has been targeted. In 1987, he was shot while reporting on the closure of a huge alcohol plant in Sulipan, Apalit in Pampanga following a series of articles written by Cervantes on the damage to local Pampanga and Bulacan rivers caused by pollution coming from the plant. In 2005, four men aimed rifles at Cervantes as he was driving his van following articles he wrote on illegal gambling.

Cervantes is a highly regarded journalist who was awarded the "presidential award" of the Pampanga Press Club for community journalism. He was also named Most Outstanding Guagueno in the field of journalism.

He has recently written about controversial subjects such as the murder of Dutch missionary Willen Geertman, Hacienda Luisita, and the Apeco project in Aurora.

"Violent attempts to intimidate journalists are increasing in the Philippines. We condemn this latest incidence and call again on the Philippines' authorities to safeguard journalists, to thoroughly investigate cases of violence and intimidation against journalists and ensure that perpetrators face the full force of the law for these crimes" said IFJ Asia Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.

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