Ifugao incident illustrates vulnerability of community journalists

The harassment of Malaya correspondent Ma. Elena Catajan and the Philippine Information Agency’s Redgie Cawis by Alfonso Lista, Ifugao Vice Mayor Clarenca Polig and his cohorts illustrates very clearly how the culture of impunity in this country is allowed to flourish and embolden those who would wish to suppress the free Philippine press.

According to Catajan, a drunken Polig and his bodyguards drew guns on her and Cawis when they sought an interview on festivities in the town that they had been invited to cover by Mayor Charles Cattling.

The incident, by itself, is a classic example of how, in the Philippines, petty warlord-politicians can lord it over isolated communities, wielding virtual life and death powers that have time and again proven fatal for vigilant community journalists.

It should be noted that most of the media killings in the country have happened in the provinces, where politicians, warlords, corrupt military and police officials, and crime lords – many in collusion with or indistinguishable from each other – rule their own little fiefdoms.

The general inaction to these killings by the national government in faraway Metro Manila, which appears to be inflicted with an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude, if not downright apathy, has only served to embolden these enemies of press freedom.

In the case of the harassment of Cawis and Catajan, however, Polig has actually appeared to have received encouragement closer to home, from someone whose sworn duty it supposedly is to protect citizens.

Even before a complaint had been filed or an investigation carried out, Cordillera police director Chief Superintendent Eugene Martin has already ruled the two journalists’ account of the incident “exaggerated.”

How can any ordinary citizen expect protection from our law enforcement agencies when even journalists threatened or worse in the course of their work are brushed aside?

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines demands that the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police immediately investigate the despicable action of Vice Mayor Police and the cavalier and unprofessional behavior of Chief Superintendent Martin, and, if warranted, impose the fullest sanctions possible on them.

It is bad enough that so many of our colleagues have fallen in places much like Polig’s kingdom. But to have police officers like Martin backing him up can only make it infinitely dangerous not only for journalists but for ordinary citizens. Continued inaction by the national government can only seal more death warrants not just for journalists but for press freedom.

References:
Jose Torres Jr., NUJP chairperson
Rowena Paraan, NUJP secretary-general

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