Chilling effect

    PRESIDENT DUTERTE’S sweeping and, as has often been the case, unsubstantiated claim that some journalists are members or maintain links with communist rebels is a potential death warrant against colleagues.

    In an interview with a radio station on December 19, President Duterte claimed that some journalists are members of the Left.

    According to the official transcript:

    I do not want to add more strain to what people are now suff ering. ‘Yung kata****** ng NPA. Sinong NPA dito? Halika nga.

    “Tapos pagtalikod mo, marami. Sige na, sige na. Walang hiyaan. Huwag kayo mahiya. Sino? T*** i*** ang ni sino sa inyo walang kamay ni isa. May alam ako mga journalists na Left talaga. O baka nagkadre doon sa Cordillera.”

    We note that there is nothing wrong and even necessary to have links with all sectors, groups and personalities in and out of government, including the NPA, as news sources.

    Apologists may again try to make light of Mr. Duterte’s latest drivel, but in a country that remains one of the deadliest in the world for journalists, there is cause to worry about the consequences of this irresponsible claim from the highest elected official of the land.

    Specifically, Duterte’s claim directly endangers our colleagues who work in the Cordillera region but does the same for those elsewhere in the country.

    At best, it is bound to cast a chilling effect on journalists who intend to cover the communist rebels in continuing efforts to better explain the roots and directions of the close to halfa-century old civil strife, at worst it would embolden those, including state agents, who seek to silence us by giving them the convenient cover of counterinsurgency.

    With this penchant for such wild and dangerous claims added to his well-known aversion to those who do not agree with him, we fear it will not be long until Duterte directly targets the critical media in his government’s efforts to stamp out dissent.

    We call on the independent Philippine media and all Filipinos who cherish our rights and freedoms to stand together in common cause and oppose all attempts to silence us.

    THE STATEMENT above of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines dated December 24, 2017 impacted some déjà vu of the most terrifying kind.

    The chills down the spine ever recurring at every remembrance of that time in 1988 when three Pampanga journalists were tagged as members of the communist insurgent group, promptly included in the military’s order of battle, and in the death list of right-wing vigilantes.

    Here’s an account those days of terror in my 1999 book Of the Press under the sub-head Rightists’ Rage.

    THE “standing order for execution” was: Death within 24 hours. The names of the targets: Sonny Lopez, Bong Lacson, Elmer Cato. Their collective crime: Active supporters of the NPA urban partisan unit Mariano Garcia Brigade. Propagandists of the CPP-NDF-NPA. Enemies of the military establishment. This was in 1988.

    Vigilante groups – they who waged that little war of attrition with the MGB partisans in Angeles City that summer, resulting to 40 fatalities – had our names etched in their hit list.

    That we knew. Reportage about the Left – of NPA plenums, of statements of the MGB’s Aryel Miranda on the “crimes against the people” committed by those the partisans executed, of interviews in the partisans’ lairs – has been viewed by the Right as open support of, if not outright membership with the insurgent front. That we understood as part of the risks of the media profession.

    What we did not know was the gravity and immediacy of the scheme the Right had laid out for us. “Extreme prejudice” was how the US Air Force’s Office of Special Investigation put it.

    It was an officer of the 174th PC Company – whom we have befriended in the course of our coverages – that alerted us of our impending execution. Separately, he hid the three of us for the most part of the 24-hour death watch. Even as he tried to argue our case with the dreaded Army Col. Rolly de Guzman, the purported godfather of the Right.

    Entered Tatang Perto Cruz, furniture magnate and media benefactor, to our rescue. Learning of our inclusion in the death list, Tatang Perto lost no time in exercising his moral ascendancy over his friend Col. De Guzman and prevailed upon him to rescind the order of our execution.

    Some weeks after, the PC officer whom we fondly called “Rapido” brokered our faceoff with De Guzman. It was Rapido’s birthday and Sonny, Elmer and I were the only media guests at his party in his house in a village in San Fernando.

    Sticking out like sore thumbs among cops and their assets, the three of us were all alone in one table laden with food and drinks when Rapido introduced to us a silver-haired businessman-looking gentleman who took each of our right hand one after the other saying “Ako si Rolly de Guzman. Kumusta ka…” mentioning our names.I nearly choked on my balls that suddenly lodged on my throat.

    (De Guzman amplified the charges of us being CCP-NPA members/propagandists, by glorifying in our news reports the deaths of MGB partisans and NPA regulars as martyrdom while denigrating those of the military. He however “absolved” us before we parted ways.)

    That was the first and only time we saw De Guzman. Remembering the incident still gives me the creeps. De Guzman was gunned down by NBI operatives led by Capt. Jaylo at the Magallanes Commercial Center parking lot in the early ‘90s during a drug bust.

    Even some years after, reminders of that execution order still come to haunt us.

    At a luncheon in Tatang Perto’s home in 1992, a guest who introduced himself as a former vigilante told Sonny he was among those who cased him. When Sonny asked him if indeed we were set up for the kill, he vigorously nodded.

    At the office of Porac Mayor Roy David sometime in 1995, I was surprised when an Army major I was introduced to for the first time told me matter-of-factly that he knew me well, my home, my family, my hang-outs, even the time I left and returned home during the late ‘80s. Yes, he was also a part of the vigilante army tasked to “neutralize all enemies of the state.”

    I asked him, “Talaga bang papatayin kami noon?”

    His answer: “Talaga.”

    NEARLY 30 years after, it is the President of the Philippine himself that raised this same Red bogey to intimidate media.

    Be not afraid. Rage.


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