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Anonymous text message alleges plan to kill Filipino journalist

(CMFR/IFEX) - 16 January 2013 - Two journalists in Kidapawan City in the province of Cotabato received a text message last 13 January 2013 from an unknown sender alleging a politician's plot to kill another journalist. Kidapawan City is about 1,500 kilometers south of Manila.

Malu Manar and Abner Francisco both received a text message from an unknown sender about a supposed plan to kill Joy Francisco, publisher and editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper Southern Voice Journal. Joy, together with Manar and Abner, reported receiving the threatening text message to the police.

Manar is the chairperson of the Kidapawan City chapter of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), while Abner is a commentator for Charm Radio dxCA 90.3 FM and a columnist for the Southern Voice Journal. (Abner and Joy, who have the same surname, are not related.)

In the text message that Manar forwarded to CMFR, the unknown sender claimed that he was part of a group that was contacted for a "mission." The text message said that a certain "Jun Obello" contacted a member of Bagani (Warrior), a group of armed natives according to Manar, to find a gunman to kill Joy Francisco after the May 2013 elections in exchange for P100,000 (approximately USD 2,500).

Jun Obello is allegedly Basilio Obello Jr., the political officer of Cotabato 2nd District Rep. Nancy Catamco, who had been criticized by Joy Francisco.

"(Joy) has hit Nancy but the plan to kill would be done after the elections," the text message in the local Bisaya language read.

The sender added that he did not agree with the plan because the "target" was a woman and that he felt pity for her.

In a phone interview with the CMFR, Joy expressed doubt that the text message was from Catamco's opponents and intended to incriminate the congresswoman. Catamco is running for re-election in May 2013.

On 14 January 2013, Obello filed a statement with the police. He told the CMFR over the phone that he denied meeting with the gun for hire group to plot Joy's murder, and emphasized that Joy had been receiving other death threats.

Obello claimed that Joy is not a threat to either him or Catamco and that he has no capacity to pay the amount of money the text message specified.

In 1997, Joy Francisco wrote an essay for the CMFR's then Philippine Journalism Review titled "Journalism in Central Mindanao, A Lonely Journey." She discussed corruption in the media and the difficulties media-practitioners experienced in the area.

"Among journalists based in the former Cotabato Empire (Cotabato City, Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato provinces), there are only two choices: to ignore death threats, or to quit journalism, as many have done," Joy wrote.

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