Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Burning of radio station another fatal blow to country's press freedom -- media groups

The media community's reaction to the burning of Radyo Cagayano was quick, saying that the incident is another blow to the much-vaunted press freedom in the country, along with the other past attempts to stifle the media and the worsening media killings in the Philippines.

From the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP):

We demand an accounting

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) expresses its outrage over the burning on Sunday (July 2) of radio station dwRC Radyo Cagayano in Baggao, Cagayan by eight armed men wearing ski masks who also blindfolded, muzzled and tied station manager Susan Mapa and volunteers Erik Ayudan, Arnold Agaraan, Armalyn Badua, Arlyn Areta and Joy Marcos.

While thankful that no lives were lost in this latest atrocity, the burning of the station was as brazen an attack on Press Freedom and the People's Right to Know as any of the scores of murders that have claimed 81 colleagues' lives since 1986, when democracy was supposed to have been restored to our benighted land, and 44 since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001, the highest toll of any administration.

For while the arsonists deigned to spare the lives of our dwRC colleagues, they struck at the very heart of why the media exist – the inalienable right of the people to free access to information by which they can chart their individual lives and our future as a nation and as a people.

The brazenness of the arson is underscored by the fact that reports reaching the NUJP indicate the station was a joint project of the mayor of Baggao and a local farmers' organization with government funding from the party-list Bayan Muna.

Again we demand that the Arroyo government order its law enforcement agencies to act with dispatch to find, arrest and prosecute the brains and perpetrators of this condemnable atrocity.

For, as we have said again and again in the still unsolved cases of so many of our murdered colleagues, and as various human rights and sectoral groups have pointed out in the case of the hundreds of activists killed or involuntarily disappeared since this administration came into power, inaction can only mean culpability or, at the very least, a tolerance of such a wide-scale and wanton violation not just of the media's but of the people's civil, social, political and human rights.

From the Paris-based press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF):

Armed men torch a community radio

A gang of at least eight masked and armed men raided and torched a community radio on 2 July, first tying up six members of staff, who were slightly injured.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the attack on Radyo Cagayano, in Cagayan province, northern Manila, which it said threatened press freedom yet again in this far-flung corner of the country.

"We call for the investigation ordered by President Gloria Arroyo to shed light on this case, that those responsible be brought to trial and that the Philippines government takes the necessary steps to bring these types of attack to a halt," said the press freedom organisation.

The overnight raiders threatened the six employees who were on the premises at the time, including the radio station's director, Susan Mapa, before binding them and setting fire to the building. The shocked members of staff were able to leave the radio and were only slightly injured.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has accused the army of carrying out the raid on the basis of indications provided by the staff. It also condemned inaction by the police. Although based only 300 metres from the radio, they only arrived on the scene three hours after the attack.

"The army is the only group with a motive to launch such an attack, said leftist lawmaker Teodoro Casino. They have been very much the targets of programmes on this radio station," he said. Lieut. Col. Leopoldo Galon Jr however denied any involvement on the part of the military.

This attack is the latest in a long series generally carried out against leftist figures and activists.

From NUJP's Baguio-Benguet Chapter:

NUJP-BB condemns burning of Radyo Cagayano

The chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines in Baguio and Benguet (NUJP-BB) condemns the burning of dwRC Radyo Cagayano in Baggao, Cagayan at 2 am on Sunday, July 2, by armed men wearing ski masks. We urge government authorities to conduct a speedy investigation and to charge with appropriate cases those involved in the arson.

We learned that before dawn that day, eight armed and ski mask-wearing men, carrying M-16 and 45 caliber firearms, illegally entered the station area, poured gasoline, and put the station aflame which reduced the station house, including the transmitter and booth facilities, into ashes.

Before the station was put on fire, the station manager, Susan Mapa, and her staff Joy Marcos, Arlyn Areta, Armalyn Badua, Arnold Agaraan, and Erik Ayudan were forcedly dragged, tied and blindfolded outside the station by the perpetrators. They suffered slight injuries and mentally harassed as a result of the incident. All their cellular phones were taken by the

One of the perpetrators was wearing a military uniform while the others wear military watches. They are believed to be from the 17th IB under the 5thInfantry Division.

This cowardly act is an attack against press freedom. It is a concrete move to suppress freedom of expression. Radyo Cagayano is a popular station among local folk as the staffs discuss the present national and local issues. The staff may have criticized policies of the government they believed contrary to people's interests, but they did so in the exercise of press freedom, recognized and protected under the Bill of Rights of the Philippine Constitution and other laws.

We condemn the act as it denied the delivery of information to the people and it destroyed a long-awaited community radio station.

We urge appropriate government authorities to investigate the burning and other related acts and charge and/or punish those involved in this cowardly act. We will be vigilant in monitoring that the incident would not be whitewashed.

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