By JIGGER J. JERUSALEM
JOURNALISTS Froilan Gallardo and Leonardo Vicente “Cong” Corrales yesterday left the city, taking the first flight out over security concerns following a fresh red tagging, and the offer of a P1-million reward for one of them that has been seen as a death threat.
Gallardo, who works for Mindanews and who serves as a special correspondent of this paper, and Corrales, Gold Star Daily’s associate editor, were accused of links to the New People’s Army (NPA) in flyers circulated in the city, an accusation the journalists strongly denied.
One red tagging material even named Corrales as a rebel “kumander” who supposedly recruits for the NPA and who has a child rape and murder case in Surigao, allegations the journalist and his colleagues called as outrageous fabrications.
But media groups cried foul over a claim of a supposed P1-million reward in exchange for the journalist’s death.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) demanded that authorities and security forces in Cagayan de Oro and northern Mindanao ensure the safety of Corrales, Gallardo and other journalists who have found themselves in danger because of the red tagging.
The NUJP stated, “… there is nothing that justifies such harassment and vilification and, in the case of Cong (Corrales), an actual death threat.”
The group said it holds that the reason the red tagging, particularly of Corrales, has worsened to actually turn potentially deadly is because of the apparent lack of interest of local government and security units to protect those so threatened, and to go after and prosecute those responsible for the clearly dangerous vilification.
“And it is almost a certainty that, unless contained, the threats to Cong, Froilan (Gallardo) and other journalists who have been targeted by the cowards who hide behind these shadowy groups and names could escalate,” said NUJP.
The NUJP also called on journalists in Cagayan de Oro and northern Mindanao to close ranks and demand from the local government and security officials the protection they are entitled to as citizens.
The NUJP said that while it is grateful that, so far, no harm has befallen journalists “who have been targeted by this cowardly campaign, we note that as much cannot be said for the officers and members of other organizations so targeted who have been unjustly jailed, attacked, even killed.
“It is not as if our colleagues have not alerted and sought the help of local officials and the local security community.”
Mayor Oscar Moreno deplored the red tagging even as he proposed some “confidence buildup” measures between the media and security forces.
Asked what he meant by “confidence buildup,” Moreno replied, “Activities meant to achieve friendship and mutual trust and confidence” between those red tagged and the security sector.
Moreno added: “I’d like to focus on their relationship with the security sector.”
“Hopefully, there is still chance for that,” he said.
Moreno said the military and police have denied involvement in the red tagging.
Reads part of Moreno’s statement: “I am not aware of any governmental action or tactic (in which I am involved) employing tagging of any form, and I’m squarely against that.”
Moreno said he personally knows Gallardo and Corrales, “and I have no reason to believe at all that they should be subjected to any form or manner of demolition; neither do I doubt – even for a moment – their love of country and firm adherence to democratic principles.”
He said he himself has been subjected to “relentless, vigorous and orchestrated demolition jobs and character assassinations, but I have found refuge in my clear conscience and in the thought that democracy must have space for dissent and conflicting views.”
Meanwhile, different media organizations threw their support behind Gallardo and Corrales.
In a statement, the Cagayan de Oro Press Club (COPC) said the allegations against the two journalists were “unfounded accusations.”
Corrales is a member of the COPC board of directors while Gallardo once served as a director of the same media organization. The latter also writes for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Mindanews, and Benar News.
Jesus Salloman, COPC president, said he can vouch for Corrales and Gallardo for their “fair and unbiased” journalism.
“As media practitioners, we believe in the integrity of Mr. Corrales and Mr. Gallardo whose only job is to write stories, and getting the sides of all stakeholders,” Salloman said.
He added: “In the exercise of fairness, obtaining stories from non-government entities as sources, even if they are perceived to be critical of the government, does not make a journalist a communist rebel or a terrorist.”
Salloman called on law enforcement groups, including police and military intelligence units, to investigate the red tagging and expose those behind the campaign.
In a separate statement, the Mindanao Independent Press Council (MIPC) condemned the series of red tagging of the Cagayan de Oro-based journalists.
“As its core, red-tagging anyone in the media profession is tantamount to suppression of the freedom of the press and the right to free expression. Such baseless allegations could force any targeted journalist to exercise self-censorship and smacks of prior restraint,” said MIPC president Edith Caduaya.
The council noted that Corrales has repeatedly been a victim of the same harassment.
“Journalists can be critical in their stance about the issues that they are passionate about. Just like any other citizen, they can hold varying political and social beliefs and these are protected by law,” Caduaya said.
She said when journalists go out of line, libel laws can be invoked.
“In short, legal venues are available when any citizen, journalists or not, is deemed to have broken the law,” Caduaya said. “There is no recourse, however, when phantom personalities resort to vicious propaganda against any member of the press whose lives are public in character and whose views are readily accessible to the general public.”
The Philippine Press Institute (PPI) said it “finds the red tagging of journalists and media organizations baseless and irresponsible. This does not only endanger the profession and render chilling effect but also put the lives of those red-tagged and their families at risk.”
In a statement, the PPI urged the government to “hold accountable the perpetrators of such fales, malicious and dangerous propaganda.” (with Herbie Gomez)