Three journalists were murdered and at least three more kidnapped in 2002. The Philippines, and in particular Mindanao island, remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.
Journalists were targeted as much by the often corrupt security forces as by the armed bands that operate sometimes as guerrillas sometimes as criminal gangs. Murderers of journalists, such as the police officers who killed Edgar Damalerio, enjoyed a shameful impunity.
The authorities, like the army, continue to advise national and international media against working on Jolo island, scene of repeated clashes between armed bands such as the Abu Sayyaf group and security forces.
At least 27 reporters have been held hostage by the Muslim rebels and the criminal gangs that roam the island, since May 2000.
Gloria Arroyo’s government, backed by the United States, has reopened the battle against Islamist "terrorists" and communists. Human rights organisations warned of the risks of the albeit needed anti-terrorist struggle spilling over after three new anti-terror laws went before the two houses of parliament in November.
The definition of "terrorism" is very vague and the government has given itself new powers to intercept and to check communications, particularly on the Internet, seriously threatening the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
Three journalists murdered
Journalist Benjaline "Beng" Hernandez, who worked for university publications and as researcher for the human rights organisation Karapatan in Davao, Mindanao island, was murdered on 5 April 2002 while investigating the application of the peace process in Arakan Valley, Cotabato province for the organisation and for local newspapers.
The 22-year-old journalist was killed, along with three local people, by soldiers of the 12th Company of special forces and the 7th Battalion of paratroopers of the Philippines army, led by Sgt Antonio Torella.
According to a post mortem carried out by the national investigation bureau the young journalist and her three companions (Crisanto Amora, Vivian Andrade and Labaon Sinunday) were all killed at point-blank range. Benjaline Hernandez was hit by several bullets: in the head, neck, the right side of her chest and the palm of her left hand.
The army at first said that the four young people had been caught up in a skirmish between soldiers and rebels. But according to her relatives and friends she was wounded and then finished off by the soldiers.
The prosecutor for Cotabatao Province was put in charge of the investigation. On 18 April the province’s governor said that the young journalists was suspected of "terrorist" activities.
Former managing editor of the student newspaper Atenews at Ateneo University in Davao, Benjaline Hernandez had only recently joined Karapatan. She had continued to write for university magazines in the region and she was vice-chair of the Mindanao branch of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP).
The young journalist was buried on 13 April at Davao. A national campaign was launched to demand the arrest of those responsible for her murder. Police and students even clashed near a military base in the capital. In June a local branch of the human rights Commission released a report implicating the army in the killing.
A few days later, the army brought a charge of "rebellion" against the local manager of Karapatan and against local farmers who had agreed to give evidence about the killings. As at 1 January 2003 a complaint lodged by Benjaline Hernandez’s family in August, had not produced any results.
Edgar Damalerio, 33, a journalist with DXKP public radio local newspaper Zamboanga Scribe, was killed on 13 May while he was leaving a press conference in a jeep to return to his home in Pagadian, in southwestern Zamboanga Province, along with two friends.
Two unidentified men, riding a motocycle fired at him from point-blank range, killing him instantly. His two assailants managed to escape. Police quickly cleaned up the murder scene without taking any photos and put pressure on the forensic surgeon not to carry out a post mortem.
The journalist, who was known for his integrity, had published a number of articles on corruption in political circles and among local police. The police quickly arrested four people armed with knives and handguns in a neighbouring village. The Pagadian police chief, Asuri Hawani, announced on 16 May that a witness had formally identified a local gangster, Ronnie Kilme as the journalist’s killer and a charge was laid against him at the prosecutor’s office.
But the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI, federal police) cast doubt on this development, stressing that it was hard for a witness to identify somone at more than 100 metres. The NBI on 17 May arrested another suspect, a police officer Guillermo Wapili. He was identified by two witnesses who were just metres away from the crime scene.
Despite this, Pagadian police continued to insist that the criminal Ronnie Kilme was in fact the culprit, despite the inconsistencies in this version of events.
It appeared that the local police were trying to protect Guillermo Wapili, a subordinate of the Pagadian police chief Asuri Hawani who had been frequently criticised by Edgar Damalerio.
On 10 August Gury "Ladica" Lobitaña, a Philippines army auxiliary, and main witness in the Damalerio case, was murdered by several men armed with sub machineguns at a locality near Pagadian.
Mr Lobitaña was one of three people to have given evidence to the national investigation bureau. He had handed over a written document in which he said that he had been contacted by a high ranking police officer in Pagadian and asked to execute Edgard Damalerio for 1,000 euros. He had refused but learned that Guillermo Wapili had accepted the contract.
Gury "Ladica" Lobitaña knew that he was in danger. The two other witnesses who were in the car with Edgar at the time of the killing told Reporters Without Borders that they feared for their lives. One of them, Edgar Amoro, turned down police protection but accepted protection from a civilian volunteer. The wife of the second witness, Edgar Ungue, was the target of an unsuccessful kidnap attempt near Pagadian on 26 August.
Family members of Edgar Damalerio, including his wife and his five-month-old son, went into hiding in a neighbouring province for fear of reprisals.
Managing editor of the Zamboanga Scribe, Hernan de la Cruz, is under permanent protection by a soldier after receiving anonymous threats that he was "next after Damalerio". Since the start of the NBI investigation, local police, including its chief Asuri Hawani, attempted to conceal his direct implication in the case. He even managed to halt proceedings by making a complaint before the prosecutor.
As a result no arrest warrant could be issued against the police officer Wapili, who was released after being held in custody for several days and now freely walks the streets of Pagadian.
He is protected by Asuri Hawani, who was relieved of his duties at the end of May on order of the interior minister because of his implication in the murder but he escaped arrest. He continues to work at Pagadian police headquarters. Provincial police chief, Pedrito Reyes, has on several occasions refused to reply to questions from Reporters Without Borders.
Sonny Alcantara, presenter of a political programme on private cable television station Celestron Cable and managing editor of the local bi-weekly Kokus, was murdered on the morning of 22 August as he was leaving home.
A San Pablo city journalist questioned by Reporters Without Borders, said that an unknown man called out to Sonny Alcantara just after he left home. He pulled out a handgun and shot him in the head at point-blank ranged, killing him instantly.
The killer managed to escape but several people were present at the murder scene. They at first refused to give evidence for fear of reprisals.
Police opened an investigaton under the control of Colonel Ernesto Cuison, police chief for San Pablo City. The journalist’s widow said he had received telephone and written threats in the last weeks of his life.
Both in the magazine Kokus and in his television programme "Quo Vadis San Pablo" the journalist had regularly criticised the municipal opposition and in particular the former town mayor Vicente Amante. One of the journalist’s friends told Reporters Without Borders that Vicente Amante, a very powerful businessman in the region and close to certain criminal gangs, could have been behind the murder.
At least 30 people have been murdered in San Pablo City since 2000. As of 1st January 2003, federal police charged with the investigation had still not completed it. A witness to the murder withdrew his evidence after receiving money and threats. Some San Pablo journalists who were close to the murder victim, were threatened for calling for justic in the case.
New information on a journalist
killed before 2002
The main suspect in the murder of journalist Candelario Cayona, of Radio Ukay who was killed in 2001, was arrested on 28 May 2002 in Zamboanga (southwest of Mindanao island). According to police, the hired killer, Abduwarid Adda, could also be implicated in the 1998 murder of journalist Rey Bancayrin.
Three journalists kidnapped
Journalist Arlyn de la Cruz disappeared in Zamboanga on 19 January 2002. Reporter on the daily Inquirer and for the private Net25 station, she was known for her scoops on the Abu Sayyaf group. She had been trying to interview Abu Sayyaf leaders or its hostages when she disappeared.
Several rumours began to circulate about her. Some said that she was in the jungle with Abu Sayyaf and others that she had faked her kidnapping to attract media attention. In February Philippines authorities began to investigate. The official story became that Abu Sayyaf had kidnapped the journalist over a financial dispute. Both Net25 and Inquirer said they had received phone calls from a woman saying she was Arlyn de la Cruz.
It was not until 8 April that her kidapping was confirmed. The Inquirer carried a letter written by Arlyn de la Cruz in which she said she had been kidnapped in January by members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who had been integrated into the Philippine army, on Jolo island.
Bandits killed her guide, a member of Abu Sayyaf, and on finding that the journalist was not carrying the ransom demanded by Abu Sayyaf for the release of American hostages, the bandits stripped and hit her.
After threatening to execute her for several weeks, the bandits passed her on to another armed group. This group apparently demanded a ransom of 40 million pesos (nearly 900,000 euros) before dropping to 11 million pesos.
In the same letter, Arlyn de la Cruz, fearing for her life, appealed to the journalist community for help. "You have judged me, accused me and crucified me. But I do not blamed you. I understand our industry and I have understood that your coverage is limited to a limited point of view of this story. "
On 27 April, Arlyn de la Cruz was freed by her kidnappers after more than 100 days of being held on Jolo island. Agence France-Presse reported an intelligence official as saying that a ransom of nearly 43,000 euros had been paid in exchange for her freedom.
A senator, Loren Legarda, who had been in charge of negotiations, denied this version of events. Arlyn de la Cruz revealed that she knew the identity of her kidnappers but preferred to consult her family and her Christian community before making the information public.
Lieutenant General Roy Cimatu, chief of staff for the South, ordered the opening of an investigation and announced "any members of the military who should be implicated in this case will certainly be penalised administratively but also taken before the courts".
Journalists Carlo Lorenzo and Gilbert Ordiales, of the independent GMA television channel travelled on 28 September to the town of Indanan, Jolo island, to interview three Indonesian hostages held by Arola Abubakar, a leader of the Muslim Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
The two, with their guide Jamla Abdurajak went to Barangay Talibang where they were intercepted by Arola Abubakar and his men who led them on foot to one of their camps. They were held at gunpoint while rebels stole all their possessions of any value.
The Philippine army launched a search for them in the Indanan region on 1 October and on 3 October Carlo Lorenzo and Gilbert Ordiales were released. They were found safe and sound not far from where they were kidnapped after an intervention by local officials.
GMA television denied a rumour that a ransom had been paid to the kidnappers. Carlo Lorenzo told the press: "I thought they were going to kill us, decapitate us, but we are safe and well".
On 7 October, police in Sulu province charged Hadja Jarma Mohammad Imran, better known as Hadja Lyn, with kidnapping the two reporters whom she was guiding on Jolo island. "She is now behind bars", police told Daily Inquirer. For her part, Hadja Lyn, who collaborated with the army in the disarmament of the armed groups on Jolo island, protested her innocence and accused three members of the MNLF, "integrated" into the 104th battalion of the Philippine Army, to have been behind the kidnapping of the journalists. She pointed the finger at Captain Alex Musngi.
Hadja Lyn was charged in the absence of her lawyer and refused to sign several statements. She called on Carlo Lorenzo, of GMA television, to give evidence in her favour. A few days later Carlo Lorenzo denied being able to implicate either Hadja Lyn or the Philippine army in his kidnapping.
Six journalists physically attacked
Salatiel Sacil, local correspondent for ABS-CBN television, suffered a leg wound when a grenade was thrown into his home south of Cotabato, Mindanao island, on the night of 2 June 2002. Those involved in the attack, two men on a motorbike, have not been identified. The journalist, who said he had no enemies, believed he was mistaken for someone else.
Local radio dySR presenter, Edmund Sestoso, and bureau chief of the local newspaper Visayas Daily Courier in Bacolod, Negros island, central Philippines, was kidnapped from his home by four soldiers on 23 October. Throughout the night they threatened him with further reprisals if he did not retract articles he had published about a local politician.
Ten days earlier, Carl Vanzales, reporter for Visayas Daily Courier, was chased by three soldiers in Bacolod after he photographed them travelling in a municipal vehicle. Ronilo Cadigal, a former rebel integrated into the Philippine army was identified as being responsible for the attacks. He was understood to have links to the Cardenas family that controlled local policitics.
The journalists’ union NUJP said a soldier had been arrested in the case but the police inspector tried to persuade the journalists to withdraw their complaint and to resolve the case informally.
Lloyd Wilson Sato, regional offical of the university press organisation was manhandled by security forces in Cebu, Cebu island, in the south of the country, on 1 November. They interrogated him for four hours over allegations that members of his organisation were involved with armed groups. The soldier seized money from the organisation and slashed him four times on the arm.
At the start of November, Edmund Lasala, cameraman with national ABS-CBN News Channel, was attacked and injured by henchmen of a local landowner while he covered a local a demonstration by local farmers at La Castellana, Negros island. He suffered hand injuries and bruising to his head and arms. Local farmers, who agreed to give evidence, were also beaten.
A cameraman with RPN-9 television was manhandled by officers of the presidential security during clashes at Malacañang, Negros island on 12 November.
Five journalists threatened
Two freelance journalists, Canadian Christopher Johnson and Frenchman Urban Hamid, were about to leave for Basilan, south of the country on 8 February 2002 when two men who introduced themselves as soldiers sent to provide escort, approached them. The journalists, who were suspicious, reported them to the local military authorities who denied having sent such an escort.
Three days later, Jun Ida, bureau chief of the Japanese daily Mainichi, was approached in the same way after leaving for Basilan. Two men offered to guide him towards the rebel camps. The Philippine authorities said both cases were kidnap attempts.
Captain Harold Cabulnoc, head of military units on Basilan island, on 9 February warned foreign journalists of kidnap threats from the Abu Sayyaf group and advised them not to travel around the island alone.
He also urged journalists to notify the military authorities of their arrival on Basilan. More than 100 journalists were present to cover joint military operations between the Philippine and US armies.
At the beginning of July, Bernadette Tamayo, war correspondent for the daily People’s Journal, was accidentally listed as a member of the Abu Sayyaf group. The army offered 20,000 euros for her capture. The journalist had been photographed with Abu Sayyaf’s men while reporting on them in May 2000. The soldiers apologised and ordered an investigation. Bernadette Tamayo blamed them for not checked their information about her and putting her life in danger as a result.
From 5 October, Julie Alipala, correspondent in Jolo for the newspaper Inquirer, received death threats by telephone or by text messages after writing an article on the implication of soldiers in the kidnapping of journalists Carlo Lorenzo and Gilbert Ordiales. His reporting headlined "soldiers did it" was carried on the front page of the daily. The text messages threatened him "Isang bala ka lang" (Just one bullet for you) and "Mag-ingat ka!" (Watch out). The journalist decided to stay at home for the next six days.
Pressure and obstruction
Radio DZNC and Star FM in Cauayan, north of the country, were closed on the order of the local authorities on 12 February 2002 and officials seized the transmitters. The two stations had failed to obtain all the broadcast permits required by the local authorities. Neither radio, both set up in 1997, had previously had any problems getting these documents.
A bomb exploded on the night of 22 May in front of the headquarters of Radyo Bombo (broadcasting on AM and FM under the names of DXIF and DXEQ), at Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao island, south of the country. Assistant to the managing editor Michael Bustamante, said a neighbour reported having seen four men near the offices just prior to the blast.
The explosion of the home-made device left a crater on the side and destroyed the station’s emblems. The night watchman was unable to identify the perpetrators because of the smoke. No-one was injured.
The station manager, Albino Quinlog, said he believed the attack could be linked to several reports on the station on corrupt politicians and the attitude of security forces in the region. The station had been the target of assault rifle fire in 2001.
On the same night of 22 May, the premises of Radyo Natin were destroyed by fire in Baganga, in eastern Davao province in the south of the country. According to the provincial police chief, Catalino Cuy, two people threw a Molotov cocktail inside the station. The cost of the damage to equipment was estimated to amount to nearly 22,000 euros.
Mr Cuy said he thought communist rebels could have been implicated in the attack, a theory rejected by a station spokesman who said that members of the guerilla group were not enemies.
Other sources said they thought that local municipal officials could have ordered the attack. The radio station had always been highly critical of the mayor of Baganga, Jerry Morales, who had ordered the station closed for six months in 2001.
At the end of June, John Elizaga, deputy mayor of the town of Cagayan de Oro in the south of the country, telephoned the management of the daily Sun Star to ask them not to cover a sexual harassment claim made against him by the daughter of a municipal councillor, following up his threats with the explanation that there were more important subjects in the town.
The newspaper not only published information about the case but also carried an editorial on the subject of the threatening phone call.
On 12 August an individual shot at a security post of the GV-FM radio at Angeles City in Pampanga province in the north of the country. According to a journalist at the station, Ody Fabian, a technician, apparently saw the gunman get into a van after opening fire.
The editorial management called for an investigation to be opened. Just beforehand the radio had broadcast a report on fraudulent use of 1,500,00 euros earmarked for flood control projects and implicating a parliamentary deputy Francis Nepomuceno. In June 2000, unknown assailants had wounded one of the GV-FM presenters in a murder attempt.
Local radios DWTI-AM and DWKI-FM and local telvision station Channel 8 in Quezon, near Manila, owned by ConAmor Broadcasting Systems (CBS), were closed on 4 October on the order of the local council for non-payment of certain taxes and violating a building code.
Police made sure the building was closed but the radios and television continue to broadcast from secret locations and legal proceedings were started.
Joselito Ojeda, owner of CBS and former town mayor called it an "abuse of authority" and "harassment" and a "political vendetta" on the part of the mayor of the town.
General Roy Kyamdo, heading operations against communist guerrillas complained on 9 October about media coverage that he considered too favourable to the New People’s Army. "The Manila newspapers only report on clashes started by the terrorists, while in the field, the initiative is all on our side", said the general.
In November the government put three new anti-terror laws before the house of representatives and the senate. In one of them the definition of a terrorist is very vague: It relates to all "destruction of property intended to threaten a breach of the peace" and to promote a "faith".
The three laws also allow the government to intercept or bug communications to prevent any terrorist act. Under the laws the security forces are not answerable to anyone over this surveillance. The confidentiality of journalists’s sources is under serious threat.