Photojournalist held at provincial governor’s house

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – A photojournalist was detained and interrogated at the house of Iloilo Gov. Niel Tupas Sr. last 16 October 2009 for “taking photos of the house without permission.” Iloilo is a province approximately 467 kilometers from Manila.

Photojournalist Tara Yap was checking the construction at the Tupas family’s house in Jaro, Iloilo City “as part of an investigative report on the lifestyle of public officials.” Yap works for the Iloilo newspaper The Daily Guardian. She also a correspondent for the Agence France Presse and the broadsheet Manila Bulletin.

In a 20 October 2009 phone interview with the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Yap said she was about to leave when she saw no activity at the house but two men, who later turned out to be Tupas’ employees, stopped her. She was in a taxi approximately 150 feet from the gate.

“They told me to get out and they searched my belongings,” she said in a 20 October interview. Yap said she identified herself as a journalist and even explained her presence there. She also showed the content of her camera to prove that she had not taken any photos.

The men confiscated Yap’s two mobile phones and digital camera and escorted her into the mansion. She was held for 20 minutes. Yap said in the phone interview that she had to follow the order because she didn’t know what they would do to her if she refused.

Nielette “Tweety” Tupas-Balleza, daughter of and an executive assistant to the governor, allegedly also talked to Yap over one of the employees’ phone. Balleza accused her of taking photos showing government-owned trucks being used at the Tupases’ other house in Banate town. Yap denied it, explaining that her camera, a Canon 350D, does not have video capabilities. (The Guardian explained in a news report that the video and photos of Tupas’s property in Banate town was given to it by a source. Yap’s photos of the Banate house taken during the verification of the source’s information were never published.)

She was only released after talking to a certain Joenar Pueblo from the provincial legal office who “acknowledged that the act was in line with investigative journalism,” she said in her report to the police.

Rey De Ramas, the caretaker of the Tupas mansion, reported Yap to the Jaro police station 3, accusing her of unjust vexation and invasion of privacy.

Provincial Administrator Manuel “Boy” Mejorada said Yap’s “suspicious” acts (being in a taxi while taking photos or video) prompted the actions of the employees.

“…nagduda at nabahala ang mga tauhan ng gobernador sa ginawa ng photojournalist na si Tara Yap dahilan kung kaya’t isinailalim ito sa interogasyon (The Governor’s personnel interrogated Tara Yap because they were worried and suspicious of what Tara Yap was doing),” Bombo Radyo reported, based on an interview with Mejorada.

Mejorada also alleged that Yap was a “spy” sent by their political rival. In his blog, Mejorada said that “…Tara Yap was taking video footage upon orders of Congressman Ferjenel Biron to be exhibited as proof to his accusation that Governor Tupas had amassed ‘unexplained wealth’ during his incumbency as provincial chief executive.”

Yap denied the allegation that she was sent by Rep. Biron. “If I’m a spy why was I wearing an ID (press identification card),” Yap said.

“On my part, there was no malice. I was only doing my job…,” she said in a 20 October 2009 e-mail to CMFR.  Yap said she will sue Tupas and his men for illegally detaining her.


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