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Radio station and journalist's house fired at in Philippines

UPDATE from CMFR: Response from the Dipolog's Office of the City Prosecutor to Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (17 July 2013)

A blocktimer in Dipolog City who was arrested even before he was charged with libel on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, reported gunshots fired at his house on 31 May 2013. Gunshots were also heard at the radio station that used to air his program. The blocktimer's house was shot at again on 5 June 2013, a mere four days after the first incident.

(Read more about the blocktime practice in the Philippines here.)

Rodolfo Tanquis told CMFR in a phone interview last 3 June 2013 that shots were fired at his family's residence at around 12:30 am last 31 May 2013. Tanquis, however, said he was not in the house at the time. He had not been going home since 2 May 2013 “to avoid endangering my family.”

On 3 May 2013, former Dipolog City police chief Reynaldo Maclang reportedly interrupted Tanquis's radio program and arrested the blocktimer at the radio station even before charging him with libel, and therefore without a warrant of arrest. Tanquis posted bail amounting to PHP10, 000 (some USD245) the following day (4 May 2013). He has since remained in hiding, even after the May 31 shooting, only checking in with his family by mobile phone.

Tanquis told CMFR that his brother-in-law and his wife's uncle almost got hurt in the shooting incident.

“My wife's uncle had the incident blottered with the police, but I wouldn't have bothered. I don't trust the police,” Tanquis told CMFR.

About 2 hours after the incident at Tanquis's residence, the radio station that aired Tanquis's radio program, dxFL FM 88.9, was also fired at.

In a phone interview with CMFR last 3 June 2013, dxFL FM anchor Celestine Carbonel said radio station owner Franklin Lim reported hearing gunshots at around 2:30 am. Lim's residence is a floor below the radio station. Lim and the station technician saw the damage done to the radio station only at around 6:00 am.

Tanquis hosted “Isyu Karon” (“Current Issues”), a blocktime program that aired at dxFL FM. Tanquis's contract with dxFL FM had just ended with the final episode of his program airing last 3 June 2013. Tanquis told CMFR he had been hosting the program through phone patch since being arrested last 3 May 2013.

Carbonel and Tanquis could only speculate that the two shooting incidents are related, but both said bullet casings from a .45 caliber gun had been found at the site of the shootings.

A few days later, Tanquis told CMFR that his house had been fired at again on 5 June 2013 at around 2:15 am. He said that eight empty casings from a 9mm pistol had been found in the vicinity of his house and that the incident had been reported to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Tanquis's family was still in the house when the second shooting happened. They were unhurt.

Another libel case and more

Carbonel was charged with libel in 2011 for an article published last 13 March 2010.

Zamboanga del Norte representative Rosendo Labadlabad sued Carbonel for libel over an article headlined, “Anomalous School Building projects worth P18-million of Cong. Labadlabad Exposed”, according to a report by the newspaper Mindanao Observer.

Aside from anchoring the blocktime program “Headline Balita” on dxFL FM, Carbonel is also the overall-in-charge of the newspaper New Nandau Today where the allegedly libelous article was published.

On 14 February 2013, Carbonel's house was also shot at. At around 3:00 am, a neighbor witnessed men riding-in-tandem firing at his house, Carbonel told CMFR.

“I was critical of the police,” Carbonel said, so he also reported the incident to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

“The practice is common here in Dipolog. (The houses of) lawyers, board members (politicians), have also been (shot at),” Carbonel added.

Nandau publisher attorney Aniceto Young told CMFR in a phone interview last 5 June 2013 that the editorial offices of Nandau and its sister publication Press Freedom (both published by the Young Printing Press) were also shot at last year, on 8 September 2012 at around 2:30 am.

“There were 7 to 8 victims (of shootings) in 2012,” Young told CMFR. He added that the victims were the private prosecutors against Maclang and media people critical of the said police officer and the Dipolog City administration.

Blocktimers jailed for illegal drugs

Young recalled three blocktimers jailed for illegal drugs when Maclang was chief of police in Dipolog City: Ryan Uy arrested on 29 October 2012, Genesis Ajero on 3 September 2012, and Joseph Herrera on 5 May 2011. But all three claimed the evidence against them had been planted.

A report by the online news site Rappler.com said that the NBI had found that Maclang and other police officers committed “illegal acts” when they concocted an entrapment operation against Herrera.

On 21 August 2011, Mindanao Observer reported in vernacular that an order from the Ombudsman for Maclang's suspension had been issued but Maclang's lawyer said the order was null and void because Herrera's complaint against Maclang had been dismissed earlier by the Philippine National Police (PNP) disciplinary authority of the Regional Investigation and Detective Management Division.

Maclang became the head of the Zamboanga del Norte Provincial Police Safety Company last January 2013.

On 19 March 2011, Maclang received the Lakan Distinguished Award, the highest award granted to PNP Academy alumni.

“There will be no more critical blocktimers here by July (because of Maclang),” Young predicted.

CMFR's call for action

On 6 May 2013, CMFR wrote the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to take necessary actions against Maclang's arrest of Tanquis.

DILG Sec. Manuel “Mar” Roxas III sent a letter dated 9 May 2013 in response, assuring that he had “asked (PNP) Director General (DG) Alan Purisima to cause an exhaustive, fair and objective investigation of the incident by an independent fact-finding team … The PNP DG shall report back to me soonest, with recommendations as to any culpable police officers and the charges to be filed against them, criminally and administratively.”

In a separate letter, 18 members of the global free expression network International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) urged President Benigno Aquino III to “file the necessary charges against Maclang.” (Read more about the appeal here.)

The president, through executive secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., replied to IFEX's appeal last 17 May 2013 saying that “steps have already been taken by the (DILG) and the Department of Justice to address the concerns … and that the Office of the President will work closely with the said agencies that are looking into the incident to ensure that justice is served.”

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