The private press played an active role in the fall of President Joseph Estrada by denouncing the abuses of power and embezzlement of this former movie actor’s government. Gloria Arroyo, the new Head of State, has promised to guarantee the independence of the freest press of the Asian continent. But the conflict with separatist groups in the south of the country remains a thorn in the Manila authorities’ side. In May, the President imposed a blackout on news about the fighting between the army and the Abu Sayyaf group. Local radios that refused to accept this order from Manila were accused of "anti-patriotic" activities. Even more serious, paramilitary militia were involved in the murders of journalists and attacks against the media.
Being a journalist in the south of this country, and especially on Mindanao Island, is very risky. Writing about the corruption of local authorities, the police, and soldiers can be seen as an act of bravura. The two journalists killed this year had dared carry out this kind of investigation and knew they were threatened. Guillermo Hagad, one of the managing editors of the magazine Mindanao Cross, recognised that, "compared to the luxury that local politicians live in, the corruption cases that appear in the press are ridiculously rare (...). There should be an article for each sumptuous mansion or new car."
Two journalists killed
On the evening of 3 January 2001, Rolando Ureta, programme director and broadcaster with the private radio station dyKR, was murdered as he left the radio’s offices in Kalibo, on Panay Island (more than 400 km. south of Manila). dyKR is part of the Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) based in Manila, and covers the Aklan province. Unidentified people followed the journalist on motorcycles and, when he was on a deserted road 6 kilometres from Kalibo, shot him several times. He fell on the side of the road after trying to escape the killers. According to his colleagues, Ureta had received death threats since August 2000. Shortly before his death, he had made accusations against provincial officials and drug smugglers in his programmes.
On 30 May 2001, Candelario "Jun" Cayona, journalist and broadcaster with radio station dxLL, was murdered on his motorcycle on the way to the radio’s offices in Zamboanga. Two unidentified people fired five bullets at close range, one of which hit him in the head. Candelario Cayona, 27 years old, died instantly. His family said he had received death threats following some of his programs. According to his colleagues, the broadcaster had been receiving threats since he broadcast an interview with one of the leaders of the Muslim rebel group Abu Sayyaf. This interview, broadcast during the Jolo hostage crisis, angered the authorities, and especially the army. Colonel Jovenal Narcise, the commander of the Philippine Army’s task force in Zamboanga, told the journalist on 17 September 2000, "If I hear you interview Sabaya [the Abu Sayyaf spokesman] again, I will kill you." Since then, Candelario Cayona carried out several interviews leaders of Abu Sayyaf, who held a group of western tourists hostage in May, in the south of the country. This murder occurred as the government announced, on 29 May, a media black-out of the conflict with the Abu Sayyaf rebel group on the islands in the south-west of the country, including Jolo. The police opened an investigation. On 7 June, a police officer stated that the probable murderer was Abdulwarid Ada, who could not be found, and who may also have murdered journalist Reynaldo Bancayrin of dxLL in March1998. But colleagues of Mr. Cayona claimed that the police had very little evidence against Abdulwarid Ada.
Two other journalists were killed in 2001. But, as of 1 January 2002, it is impossible to say whether these crimes were related to the victims’ activities as reporters.
On 24 February 2001, Mohammad Yusop, a commentator with RXID radio, a member of the Islamic Radio Broadcasting network, was killed by a bullet in the head in Pagadian City (south of the country). According to a police officer questioned by Agence France-Presse, two unidentified individuals shot the journalist while he was on his way home on his motorcycle. Nobody claimed responsibility for the murder and the police launched an inquiry. In November 2000, Olimpio Jalapit, a broadcaster with a radio station that is also a member of RMN, was killed in Pagadian City. As of 1 January 2002, a former military officer identified by several witnesses has yet to be apprehended. The police have no serious leads in the Yusop case. His colleagues say that they should not rule out his having been killed because of his journalistic activities.
On 31 May, Joy Mortel, a regular journalist with Mindoro Guardian, was killed in her home in Barangay Talabanhan in west Mindoro province (centre of the country). Two armed people entered her home and shot her after a very violent struggle. According to the initial information provided by the police, Mortel was the target of Communist rebels who accused her of corruption in the management of agricultural cooperatives, of which she was an administrator.
New information on a journalist killed before 2001
On 4 June 2001, Amador Guevarra, alias "Ka Basil", and two other Communist rebels of Rebolusyonaryong Hukbong Bayan (RHB), a dissident group of the New People’s Army (NPA), were arrested in Pampanga province (north of the country). They were accused of the murder, on 23 May 2000, of Vincent Rodriguez, correspondent with the radio station DZMM. Rodriguez was covering the visit of the son of President Joseph Estrada in this region.
A journalist attacked
On 14 June 2001, Juan Porras Pala, broadcaster with Radyo Ukay and Davao city councillor, was victim of a murder attempted after leaving the office of the radio station in Davao, in southern Mindanao Island. At least four masked men armed with M-16 rifles and Uzi submachine guns fired at the pick-up truck Juan Pala was driving while he was stuck in a traffic-jam. The journalist was wounded by three bullets, one in the neck and was hospitalised. The following day, Pala broadcast a programme from his hospital bed. One of his bodyguards, Angelito Aguanza, was shot in the head and stayed in a coma for several weeks. Juan Pala was also an independent candidate for vice-mayor in May 2001. During the election campaign, he stopped presenting programs on Radyo Ukay, a member of the DXLL and UMBN radio networks, but was planning to come back on the air soon. He is known for his anticommunist opinions, especially against the communist guerrilla New People’s Army. According to Rene E. Bartolo, editor of the regional daily Mindanao Times, "the journalist, politician and anticommunist crusader" had "a lot of enemies." The mayor of the town opened an investigation, and, as of 1 January 2002, the perpetrators had not been found.
A journalist kidnapped
On 31 August 2001, Noel Esin, better known under the name Noli Ebarle, a journalist with the radio station dxBC, which is a member of the RMN network and is broadcast in the south of the country, was kidnapped while on his way to work. He attempted to call the radio station on his mobile phone but his kidnappers cut off the conversation. A few hours later, a text message was sent to the mobile phone of another dxBC reporter: "Noli is in our hands." He was found three days later, blindfolded, his hands and feet tied, suffering from dehydration. His stories about illegal logging, drug smuggling, and policemen moonlighting as bodyguards for local businessmen earned him many enemies.
Pressure and obstruction
On 29 May 2001, President Gloria Arroyo imposed a media blackout on the conflict opposing the army and Abu Sayyaf rebels on the islands of the southwest of the country, including Jolo. According to the Head of State, "it is important to maintain secrets to surprise the enemy". During the same speech, Gloria Arroyo said that journalists who interviewed Abu Sayyaf rebels were committing "antipatriotic" acts. An officer later specified that reporters were not forbidden from going to this region but that it was "recommended that they not go there". The army promised to provide information on the fighting and the hostage situation, but did not want journalists to put themselves in "danger". The majority of Philippino media supported the government’s decision in their editorials, with the exception of the Mindanao radio network, RMN, who said they wanted to continue interviewing the leaders of Abu Sayyaf.
On 6 June, a bomb exploded in front of the offices of radio station dyHB, better known under the name Radyo Agong, in Bacolod City, in the West Negros district (south of the country). A guard and two passers-by were wounded when the explosion caused a wall around the building to collapse. This radio station, a member of the Radio Mindanao Network (RMN), regularly broadcasts reports on organised crime, and the complicity of corrupt police officers and soldiers, in this area. But according to Vic Mercado, the managing editor of dyHB, the attack was related to the recent broadcast of interviews with leaders of the Abu Sayyaf group after the government imposed a media blackout. Initial police conclusions said that the bomb used was of military origin.
In August, former President Joseph Estrada asked his lawyers to file suit against the newspaper Daily Inquirer for 2,200,000 euros in damages. He was suing the newspaper for publishing an interview with a soldier implicating him and Senator Panfilo Lacson, chief of the national police, in a money laundering scandal. Before being deposed, Estrada had harassed the Inquirer by asking his partisans to no longer buy advertising space in this newspaper.