Mayor denies threatening reporter-columnist

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – A tabloid reporter-columnist said the mayor of Lumban town, Laguna province, threatened him last 22 February 2009. Laguna is about 104 kms. southeast of Manila. The mayor has denied making the threat.

People’s Tonight reporter and columnist Paul Gutierrez claimed that Lumban mayor Wilfredo Paraiso called him on his mobile phone at around 11:41 a.m. (local time) to say that something bad could happen to him if he goes to Lumban.

But in a phone interview with the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) last 23 February, Paraiso denied threatening Gutierrez and said the reporter might have gotten the wrong impression because he had raised his voice while talking to him. Paraiso said he merely complained about the Gutierrez’s quoting out of context his reaction to protest actions over a land dispute.

“I got angry at him (Gutierrez), but I never threatened him,” Paraiso said in Filipino. The mayor also denied shouting expletives at Gutierrez over the phone.

Paraiso’s call came a few minutes after Gutierrez had interviewed him by phone. He asked the mayor what the local government was doing in preparation for the demolition of some houses in the villages of Bagong Silang and Salac which a court order issued last 5 February had mandated. Gutierrez later shared Paraiso’s statement with protesting residents.

The land dispute began in the 1980s and is still in court, said lawyer Lief Opiña, the affected residents’ legal counsel.

Gutierrez gave residents the impression that he was not doing anything to address the problem, Paraiso said. The mayor got irked because Gutierrez allegedly misquoted him. But Gutierrez said he only told the residents what Paraiso had told him over the phone.

According to a 23 February 2009 People’s Tonight front-page report, the
mayor allegedly told Gutierrez: “(w)ala na akong magagawa kasi may court order (I cannot do anything because of the court order)…unless there is an intervention… but we are exerting all efforts…we could also provide financial assistance (to the affected residents).”

Gutierrez said he had already reported the alleged threat to the police at Camp Vicente Lim in Calamba, Laguna on the same day it happened. He also said he would file a formal complaint against Paraiso with the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior and Local Government.

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