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At wit’s end

Cong B. Corrales .

I AM tired of being wary. I am tired of my “new reality” in light of this incessant red tagging. For context to people who don’t realize what it is to be red-tagged, it is being in a virtual hit list but not knowing who will assassinate you. Everyone is a suspect — from the innocuous-looking guy selling candy or ice drop on the streets to the notorious duo riding a motorcycle.

Fortunately, I have had training from the International News Safety Institute. We were trained at the Army’s 4th Infantry Division here. We were the first batch that used “live fire” during the training. We were trained how to react in different scenarios — from abduction to being tailed or to counter surveillance.

No less than an agent of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces taught us tips on counterintelligence. He taught us how to “burn” those who are tailing us. I have since shared my training with my family. Looking back, sharing the things I learned from the safety training would prove useful now.

So, when my family and I were tagged in February this year, I gathered them for a huddle to refresh them of the things I shared to them years ago.

Since the first red tagging incident, my “new reality” consisted of me flinching whenever a “motorcycle riding in tandem” whiz by me. Walking the streets or inside the malls, I would maximize every reflective surface to be able to see who has been following me or what people behind me are doing. If there is one particular person who I think has been following me, I would automatically do the “jackrabbit walk” to steer the person off my trail.

But doing this every single day since February is tiring and has taken a toll on my nerves. It angers me that I am constantly afraid when I walk the streets of a city where I was born, grew up, got married, had children, and will most probably die in.

It is disappointing that I do not feel safe anymore in a city I have called home during the last four decades of my life. I am a tax-paying constituent of the city, for crying out loud.

I am disappointed at people who swore to look after my welfare and safety. It does not even help that I’m a director of the oldest press club in the country since it is so busy with some personal problems. Until only over the weekend, city hall has been deafeningly silent on the red tagging of its constituents.

Last Friday night, another local journalist was red-tagged online along with a Davao-based columnist who was abducted at the Laguindingan Airport late last month. A meme red tagging National Union of Journalists in the Philippines’ chapter president here, Pamela Jay Orias, and Margarita Valles was posted on a Facebook group “Quiet No More PH.”

However this time, colleagues were fast in condemning the incident. Taking it a step further, my editor-in-chief, who is also an NUJP long-time member, did a digital forensic work on “Quiet No More.” He traced the post to a military unit that is tasked, ironically, to do “civil relations” work.

He posted his findings on his wall. Although the findings were circumstantial, apparently, it was enough to push the military agents to take down their red tagging meme by Saturday evening.

Erstwhile Alagar spokesman Surki Sereñas reacted to my post of a screen-captured photo of the red tagging meme that was not “available” anymore, that although it was taken down, the damage has been done. I replied that while it is true that they have already damaged the reputation of the Pam and Manang Ging, we still have the consolation that now we know the people behind the online red tagging. It is a unit of the Army based in Davao City.

On Saturday, members of NUJP’s directorate held an audience with Mayor Oscar Moreno and Vice Mayor Raineir Joaquin Uy to discuss our concerns on the red tagging of local media workers.

I was told that Moreno said he would look into the matter. He also asked for “proof” of the red-tagging incidents in the city. Why would he ask for proof — doesn’t he read the newspaper or listen to the radio? Where has he been living all these years? From his house, does he go to work passing through a portal that leads directly to his office?

To be fair, I know the mayor has a lot on his plate right now. But I don’t believe he lacks resources and logistics to address these life-threatening incidents because aside from being the mayor of the city, he sits as chairman of the Regional Peace and Order Council of Northern Mindanao.

He can just easily get to the bottom of this. Say, easier than what my editor-in-chief did in digging into who is behind the incessant red tagging in the city.

The mayor also chided local reporters for not doing anything when he was a subject of a smear campaign that started months before –and even after — the mid-term polls. Now, this is dumb. Unlike him, we did not run for public office. Being a veteran politician, he should know that smear campaign during election season comes with the territory.

Our task as members of the fourth estate is to advance the right of the people to know the current events of government — for them to reach informed decisions. It is hardly a task that merits red tagging.

Anyway, I find solace in kindred spirits who continue to inspire their colleagues by being with them in times of state repression.

I admit that I am scared out of my wits — I’m on my wit’s end here. But apart from being scared, I will still not be cowed into silence. I will continue with my task to inform the people as accurate as I can.

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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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