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Philippine military harass rights defenders, journalists; radio manager threatened

Residents build a makeshift shelter after their house in a coastal town in Davao Oriental was destroyed by typhoon Pablo, 11 December 2012
Residents build a makeshift shelter after their house in a coastal town in Davao Oriental was destroyed by typhoon Pablo, 11 December 2012

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Military and police personnel allegedly harassed human rights defenders and journalists who were on a fact-finding mission and relief operation in the province of Davao Oriental from 18 to 20 April 2013. Ranking military officers in the province have denied the allegation.

A fact-finding mission of 69 representatives from different human rights organizations and alternative media groups was on its way to the towns of Baganga, Boston and Cateel to look into alleged human rights violations committed against the victims of typhoon Pablo (international name: Bopha) which devastated those and other towns last December 2012, and to distribute relief goods to the victims. Representatives of the Manila-based Pinoy Weekly, Davao Today, Kilab Multimedia, and Sun Star Davao joined the fact-finding mission.

According to Pinoy Weekly's Macky Macaspac, one of the journalists with the mission, military personnel stopped them several times on their way to Baganga town on 18 April. Macaspac told CMFR the group was first stopped at a checkpoint of the 67th Infantry Battalion in Cateel, and then was stopped and "detained" by several policemen at a Commission on Elections (COMELEC) checkpoint in Aliwagwag village (also in Cateel) for approximately two hours.

Macaspac said that the supposed COMELEC gun ban checkpoint seemed to only target the fact-finding mission. He alleged that it was only set up when the fact-finding mission's vehicles (Saddam trucks) were approaching. "They (the policemen) were letting other vehicles pass without inspecting them," Macaspac said in Filipino.

Macaspac said the police officers in Aliwagwag insisted on escorting them to Baganga. "They immediately removed the COMELEC checkpoint sign, and put it on the back of their vehicle when they offered to escort us. No one was left at the supposed checkpoint, not a sign or any police personnel," Macaspac said.

On 20 April, when the fact-finding mission was scheduled to go back to Davao City, the members of the fact-finding mission were stunned to find out that the Saddam truck drivers were nowhere in sight. Macaspac said some residents told them that some military officers had approached the Saddam truck drivers and threatened them.

The fact-finding mission rented another truck but the military allegedly would not allow it to pass without showing its registration. When the fact-finding mission told the provincial government about the harassment, they were allegedly reprimanded. "Hindi kasi kayo nagprotocol sa probinsya," a local official was quoted by Macaspac as saying.

By 21 April, despite the insistence of the local military to "rescue" them, members of the fact-finding mission were able to get a ride back to Davao City through the help of Joel Virador of the Bayan Muna political party, some church workers, and journalists from Davao City.

The online news Davao Today, in a 20 April report, quoted Lt. Col. Krishnamurti Mortela of the 67th Infantry Battalion as denying allegations of harassment. Mortela told Davao Today that his men helped the mission "even if they had not coordinated their efforts with us and instead independently initiated activities in the area."

MindaNews also quoted 701st Infantry Brigade commander Col. Leonardo Rey Guerrero in a 21 April report: "We categorically deny that there is a hostage-taking. They are on their own in that sitio. They did not coordinate their activities with the LGU (local government unit). Now they are asking for help of the LGU and military are finding ways to assist them from being stranded, not hostaged. Instead, they will be hosted by LGU and military as we are preparing vehicles to pick them up."

Radio manager receives threatening text

In a separate incident, a manager and franchise owner of a radio station in Hinoba-an town, Negros Occidental received a threatening message a few weeks after he filed a civil suit against the town mayor.

Hinoba-an is approximately 581 kilometers southeast of Manila.

Segundino "Dino Bryan" Taladico of dySL Radyo Natin-Hinoba-an received a text message last 13 April 2013 saying that a gunman had been hired to kill him. The [translated] text message from +639288742534 read "We already hired a gunman for you so take care always. It will only take one or two shots to kill you." CMFR tried to contact the sender, but calls and text messages were unanswered.

Taladico told CMFR in a 19 April interview that the threat may be connected to a civil suit he filed against Mayor Maria Teresa Bilbao for closing down his radio station in March. Employees from the local government of Hinoba-an padlocked the building occupied by dySL for supposedly failing to secure a business permit since 2010.

Taladico denied Mayor Maria Teresa Bilbao's accusation that his station was operating without a business permit. He added that his 2013 application is being ignored by the mayor. (Click here for more information on the alleged illegal closure.)

Taladico told CMFR that the order to close down dySL may be due to its airing blocktime programs sponsored by the mayor's political rival. However, Bilbao, in a 7 March report by The Visayan Daily Star "denied that politics was the reason for the shutdown."

The civil suit is currently pending before the Kabangkalan City Regional Trial Court. The court has yet to call for a preliminary hearing, Taladico said.

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