Home Opinion Statement Hands off our colleagues! Stop the attacks against journalists!

Hands off our colleagues! Stop the attacks against journalists!

Statement of Northern Dispatch on the intensified harassments against our members

Northern Dispatch (Nordis) expresses great concern on the safety of our correspondents in Ilocos and Cagayan Valley. They have been the subject of relentless red-tagging, vilification, and harassment by state security forces. State agents accuse them of being members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Our regional correspondent for Ilocos, Paola Espiritu, has been continuously accused by the 81st Infantry Battalion as “recruiter of NPA.” Reports of state agents showing her picture in different communities in Ilocos Sur and La Union, accusing her of conscripting youth for the rebels, have reached our office.

During her coverage of the August 9, 2019 dialogue between people’s organizations and the 81st IB at the Provincial Capitol, an army official, Captain Rogelio Dombrique, called her name for no reason. Espiritu retorted that such action is the reason why people, including her, feel harassed because they have never met, but the military knows their name. She also asked the official if they have been monitoring her.

Since then, Dombrique has been hell-bent in associating our colleague to the armed rebels. He went as far as to interrogate families of the slain NPA guerillas in Santa Lucia last February on how long have they known Espiritu. She was then covering the incident.

A long time student journalist, Espiritu served as an officer and organizer of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines – Ilocos and wrote for Ilocandia Probe. Presently, she reports for Nordis on events and issues in Ilocos. She is also a member of the multi-media group Tignayan Productions and a volunteer secretariat of the Ilocos Network for the Environment (Defend Ilocos).

Meanwhile, in Cagayan Valley, Deo Montesclaros, our provincial correspondent for Nueva Vizcaya, was among those named on the posters scattered across the region. The material accused priests, peasant leaders, and development workers as CPP-NPA members and sympathizers.

In January, the Baguio City Police Office also included in their spot report the name of our Managing Editor Sherwin De Vera. The report was about a protest action that he was covering for a video story. The city police tagged him as a communist front organization personality (CFO), which in essence, also labels our outfit as such.

Our fears for the safety of our colleague is well-grounded. There is a clear pattern of surveillance, vilification, and red-tagging followed by arrests for trumped-up charges and attempts on the lives of alternative media practitioners.

Before the incident with BCPO, De Vera has been the subject of relentless harassment and surveillance. The police and military arrested him in December 2017 and detained for a month for trumped-up rebellion charges. The Justice Department also included him in the petition to proscribe the CPP-NPA as terrorist organizations.

In August last year, our correspondent in Ifugao, Brandon Lee, almost lost his life when assassins peppered him with bullets. Before the incident, the 54th IB accused him of being an NPA supporter and received multiple death threats for his human rights and environmental advocacy.

Last November 2018, the police and military illegally arrested Anne Krueger of Paghimuntad, the alternative media outfit of Negros Island. The authorities claimed she is an NPA and charged her with illegal possession of guns and ammunition. Just this February, the police also arrested Frenchiemae Cumpio, the executive director of Eastern Vista. She is also the anchor of Lingganay han Kamatuoran aired over Aksyon Radyo Tacloban. The military presented her as a high-ranking official of the CPP-NPA in the region. Before this, she was the subject of the red-tagging campaign and surveillance.

Tagging journalists, as rebel members or sympathizers, is a clear threat to their safety and well-being, and to the people’s right to know. It is condemnable, and an affront to democracy and free press.

Nordis takes pride in our staff, reporters, columnists, and correspondents who are actively involved in people’s issues. We reiterate our firm stand that their advocacy, as a journalist, does not diminish their work as members of the Fourth Estate. Their participation in the people’s struggle is what makes them credible to tell the stories from the ground and effective in articulating the voice of the oppressed. As part of the Fourth Estate, it is their social and moral task to expose the corruption and abuse of power in the government, and frame their stories to effect social change.

We call on our colleagues in the media to step up. We have been holding the line long enough; it is time to fight back and push forward to end the attacks against our ranks and profession. # nordis.net

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