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Philippines: Media Repression In Negros Island

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MEDIA GROUPS CONDEMN INCREASING MEDIA REPRESSION IN NEGROS ISLAND

8 November 2002

QUEZON CITY (CMFR/IFEX): The media community of Negros Island, central Philippines, has decried the rising wave of media repression on the island, in light of two recent cases of alleged harassment of two local journalists by local government and military officials.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), along with other media groups, said that local officials in Canlaon City, Negros Oriental, and a group of military officers could be involved in the reported abduction of journalist Edmund Sestoso on 23 October 2002.

Sestoso is The Visayas Daily Courier's news bureau chief in Bacolod City, Negros Oriental, and a commentator on local radio station DYSR. His abduction allegedly occurred 10 days after a correspondent of the same newspaper, Carl Vanzales, was allegedly harassed by military men and a rebel returnee on 13 October.

Ronilo Cadigal, the rebel returnee, was implicated in both cases. According to NUJP national chair Edgar Cadagat, Cadigal has close ties with the ruling Cardenas clan in Canlaon City. Cadigal implicated several persons in the assassination of former mayor Jose Cardenas.

The city's current mayor, Judith Cardenas, was the wife of the slain former mayor. Sestoso was brought to see her after Cadigal and his group abducted him, the NUJP alleged.

The NUJP said in a press statement that Cadigal and three armed companions went to pick up Sestoso at his house in Dumaguete City, Negros Occidental, on the pretense that Cadigal was going to hold a press conference in nearby Sibuyan village. However, instead of going to a press conference in Sibuyan, Sestoso was brought to see Mayor Cardenas in Canlaon City, about 100 kilometres from Dumaguete.

According to Cadagat, Cardenas did not appreciate the negative reports in Sestoso's newspaper about the case the Cardenases had filed against Jose Cardenas's alleged killers. The NUJP alleged that Cadigal's naming of several personalities as behind the killing of the former mayor was politically motivated, since some of those personalities are political opponents of the Cardenases.

After meeting the mayor, Sestoso was reportedly brought to a government-owned pension house, where he spent the night of 23 October. He was released a day later.

Ten days before Sestoso's alleged abduction, Cadigal and two soldiers allegedly harassed Vanzales after he photographed them while riding in a government vehicle Cadigal and his group were illegally using in Canlaon City. Cadagat said the men on board the vehicle trailed Vanzales to the "Courier" office in Bacolod City and posted themselves in front of the office. Concerned for their safety, Courier staff members asked for police assistance.

The police only arrested one of the two soldiers, Cadagat said. The other soldier fled after being asked to contact their officer. Later, during the investigation in the local precinct, Inspector Jonathan Lorilla, the head of the team that went to the Courier office, was repeatedly called several times on his cellular phone. After each call, Cadagat said, Lorilla would ask Vanzales and his Courier colleagues to drop their complaint against the two soldiers and settle the matter amicably.

According to Cadagat, Lorilla confiscated the soldiers' identification, but the papers were never shown to Vanzales and his colleagues. As of press time, the NUJP was still trying to determine the two soldiers' identities.

Cadagat was quoted on the web-based news site Bulatlat.com as saying that the same soldiers were also harassing Vanzales because of his critical reports against Canlaon City government officials, including Cardenas. Bulatlat.com also quoted a military official in Negros who denied that the two soldiers were in the active or past rosters of enlisted men, and who described the incident as "a communist propaganda gimmick."

Sestoso initially denied that he had been accosted by Cadigal and his group, claiming Cadigal only "invited" him. However, Cadagat said that Sestoso later admitted to him that he was abducted. Sestoso also confirmed that there was "an element of abduction" when the CMFR interviewed him by phone on 7 November. However, the journalist refused to give other details regarding the incident.

On 30 October, Cadigal was quoted by the Sun.Star Dumaguete as denying that he abducted Sestoso. He described the incident as a meeting between him and the bureau chief.

For further information, contact Melinda Quintos de Jesus, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), 2nd Floor, Ateneo Professional Schools, 130 H.V. dela Costa St., Salcedo Village, Makati City, 1227, Philippines, tel: +63 2 894 1314/1326, fax: +63 2 840 0889, e-mail: cmfr@surfshop.net.ph, Internet: http://www.cmfr.com.ph

The information contained in this alert is the sole responsibility of CMFR. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit CMFR.

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