By JOEY NACALABAN
MEDIA groups in and outside Cagayan de Oro closed ranks as a shadowy group included a journalist here and his family in a list of public figures accused as recruiters for the New People’s Army (NPA).
News media organizations called the distribution of the list a clear case of red-tagging and an attempt to intimidate those in the list, including the journalist who has been vocal in his criticisms of the Duterte administration and its policies.
In the list is Leonardo Vicente “Cong” Corrales, associate editor of this paper. Also included were his wife and son who, incidentally, is a government employee.
Also listed were Iglesia Filipina Independiente bishops Felixberto Calang and Antonio Ablon, Fr. Rolando Abejo, Fr. Khen Apus, Fr. Kris Ablon;
Lawyers Beverly Musni, Czarina Musni, Beverly Ann Musni, activists Kristine Lim and Vennel Chenfoo and Wildon Barros;
Jonathan Bonocan, Benjie Sambaan, Evelyn Naguio, Ritchel Hilogon and Ophelia Tabacon.
Also accused of recruiting for the NPA were the Roman Catholic group Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao-National Union of People’s Lawyers, and the Kabataan party-list group.
During a meeting yesterday afternoon, the board of directors of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club (COPC) dismissed the allegation that Corrales has links to the communist rebel group.
Corrales is serving as one of the directors of the city’s premier news media organization.
“Mr. Corrales is an active member of the local media community… Let it be known that we will stand with board member Corrales as we call on the authorities to investigate this red-tagging and ensure that media personalities be spared from this accusation,” reads part of the COPC statement.
Broadcaster Michael Bustamante, president of the Philippine National Police Press Corps in Region 10, condemned the act of linking Corrales and his family to the NPA.
Bustamante said, “This is a form of harassment and should be stopped. We call upon the authorities to undertake an immediate investigation of the incident.”
In a statement, the human rights watchdog Karapatan alleged that the flyers that listed the names were placed in two brown envelops and handed to a guard at Philtown Hotel at around 10:30 yesterday.
This was done while human rights advocates were inside the hotel for the Hustisya-Northern Mindanao assembly and launch.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said the flyers came from a suspected military agent.
“Each envelop contained 13 copies of flyers listing organizations of youth and teachers and tagging names of church workers, lawyers, rights advocates and that of a journalist, as ‘terrorist members of the New People’s Army and Communist Party of the Philippines,’” said Palabay who attended the gathering at Philtown.
Corrales called the group behind the list “cowards who hid under the cloak of anonymity.”
He categorically denied that he and any member of his family have links to the NPA or even the Communist Party of the Philippines.
“My wife is a marketing executive with Gold Star Daily where I am the associate editor. My son is a regular staff at the Commission on Elections in Region 10, and is currently serving in the Commission’s city office. Our credentials are readily available,” Corrales said.
He said the group behind the list was out to intimidate him and endangered the lives of members of his family.
Corrales added: “I will not let this cowardly act push me to silence. I will continue speaking truth to power.”
The Gold Star Daily decried the inclusion of Corrales, its associate editor, and his family in the list, calling it a form of harassment and an attempt to bully a media practitioner into silence.
Herbie Gomez, this paper’s editor-in-chief, said Corrales has been working as a journalist for years and has never been known even by his peers as a recruiter for the NPA.
The associate editor is a son of the late veteran editor and former Cagayan de Oro Press Club president Emilio Corrales. He started his work in the media with another daily paper in the ’90s and slowly worked his way up. Before he joined Gold Star Daily as associate editor, he worked in the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).
“Journalists are basically storytellers, and they really don’t care if the facts in their news stories are liked or disliked. Then, there are those who write editorials. They formulate their opinions based on available facts and data. These are all rights, and not privileges, guaranteed by the Constitution. To equate these and the exercise of the freedom of the press and of expression with subversive activities is a matter that greatly exceeds the bounds of reason. It is, in fact, outrageous,” said Gomez.
Veteran journalist Nonoy Espina, chairman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, also frowned over the inclusion of Corrales and his family members, saying it was serious in that it exposed the Corraleses to unnecessary risks.
“There is nothing more cowardly and deplorable than to vilify persons and put them in mortal peril behind the cloak of anonymity,” said Espina.
He added: “Red tagging is not mere intimidation. All too often it can be a virtual death sentence.
“And there is nothing more craven than to threaten a family as these monsters did by including our colleague Cong Corrales, his wife and son in the list released in Cagayan de Oro.”
Nef Luczon, a multimedia specialist at Sunstar-Cagayan de Oro, said he was appalled at the “ignorance” of those behind the red tagging, pointing out that dissent and the duty of check and balance should not be seen as the same as subversion “if we still believe that we are a democratic country.”
“I am saddened. Cong is a friend, regardless of personal beliefs and ideologies. I wish to call those who made those red-tagging claims to research,” Luczon said.
Karapatan’s Palabay said “such notorious lists” have resulted in dire threats to security and even lives of rights defenders.
She called on the Commission on Human Rights and local governments to protect the rights defenders and make accountable those who continue to put their lives at risk.
“Activists and everyone are being wrongly tagged as terrorists,” said Palabay, adding that the anti-terror law is being arbitrarily used against activists.