That journalism is a dangerous and high risk venture in the country is true, as has been proven by the long list of media workers murdered for doing their jobs.
We, journalists in the Province of Masbate, have experienced the same terrors sown by onion-skinned individuals, public officials – career or elective – and those who would wish nothing more than to silence the press so evil may flourish.
This small province has already lost two journalists to the enemies of press freedom – Nelson Nadura on December 2, 2003 and, recently, tabloid reporter Antonio Castillo on June 12, 2009. Both left orphans in the care of their widows, Castillo with eight children, six of them still in elementary or high school.
Nadura’s murder has yet to be solved. Neither have any suspects been identified or caught in Castillo’s killing.
Other than these murders, our colleagues also suffer the harassment of influential political personalities, the worst case being that of Joaquin Briones Sr., editor of the Masbate Tribune, a weekly tabloid.
Briones has been out on parole since 2005, after serving five years, two of these at the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, after he was convicted of several cases of libel.
After his release from jail, Briones returned to what he does best, joining other colleagues in Masbate in helping the province’s search for good governance by exposing and criticizing the misdeeds of errant officials.
Among the subjects of their criticism has been Vice Governor Vince Revil, who crusading Masbate journalists have criticized on several issues, including ghost employees and a coal-fired power plant.
In his pique, Revil, instead of responding to the issues and working to improve governance in the province, has singled out Briones for retaliation, exploiting the vulnerability of the local publisher’s parole to exact vengeance.
He has filed a case for two counts of libel against Briones and used this as a basis to write the Board of Parole and Probation asking that the journalist’s parole be revoked and he be returned to the national penitentiary.
Aside from this, Revil’s lawyer, Ruben Songco, who is also his uncle and the counsel of the Masbate Electric Cooperative (Maselco), has filed three separate libel cases against Briones on behalf of the power distributor.
We have it on good information that Revil instigated the filing of these cases.
Revil’s singling out Briones and seeking his return to prison because he cannot withstand criticism on valid issues of governance or the lack thereof is nothing less than oppression and the perfect example of how the high and mighty in Masbate regard the media and their role.
It is also a telling commentary on the true nature of many of our local politicians, who see public office not as a public trust but a private endowment.
Despite this, the media community of Masbate remains firm in our commitment to keep the flames of press freedom alive and oppose the continuing attempts of those who would silence us in their unceasing efforts to plunge our province into a reign of darkness.
Norman Laurion, chair
Ram Sison, vice chair
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