Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mind Game

(Statement of BANDILLO NG PALAWAN released on June 5, 2006 in response to the wrongful accusation from DYER regarding a dubious website about the murder of broadcaster Dong Batul)

Last Wednesday, 31 May 2006, a staffer of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility called our attention to an email from a supposed entity called the Free Palawan Media Movement. The email directed recipients to a website that contained articles on the recent assassination of Palawan broadcaster Fernando "Dong" Batul. We were surprised about the information, as we do not know of any such group in Palawan.
The intentions of the website’s creators only became clear to us the following day, when two local radio stations started discussing its contents. We were flooded with text messages from concerned listeners who informed us that DYER, which is widely known to be under the control of Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn, had named Bandillo ng Palawan as the possible creator of the website. Commentators from radio station DYSP, which is affiliated with GMA Network Inc., supported DYER’s allegations. DYER alluded to two writers from Bandillo ng Palawan, one of them a correspondent for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, as the supposed writers of the website. A former reporter of Bandillo ng Palawan was also named as one of the alleged writers.
We obtained copies of the mass-circulated email from a staffer of CMFR, which also serves as the secretariat of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists that extended assistance to Batul’s family. We attempted to access the website, but to our dismay, it had been taken down and we had no way of confirming its contents aside from hearsay.
Over the weekend, we managed to obtain photocopies of the website’s pages from law enforcers in Palawan. After reading the web pages thoroughly, we finally understood why our local community has expressed intense concern for the safety of Bandillo’s writers.
The website’s creators had cleverly plagiarized many of our stories, lifting entire phrases and even posting a clipping of our headline story on Batul’s killing. But it also posted a hodgepodge of allegations regarding an organization called "Commando Gang," the controversy about Palawan workers who paid a huge sum to work in Taiwan, and the inaction of the city government in paying tribute to Dong Batul as a former vice mayor. It appears that the website was put up to mislead the public about the murder of Batul.
It is interesting to note that the commentators who brought public attention to the website are the same ones whom Dong Batul has openly accused as "envelopmental" journalists. With their malicious accusations against Bandillo writers, it is clear that their intention is to put our lives in danger. It is obvious that they want to scare away local reporters who share Dong Batul’s ideals on principled journalism. Clearly, they want to put a stop to our in-depth coverage of Palawan issues, including the cowardly murder of Dong Batul. This is highly irresponsible and does not speak well of our media colleagues.
Regular readers of Bandillo ng Palawan who may have accessed the website will certainly note the typographical and grammatical errors, as well as convoluted syntax, that show our accusers are clearly way off the mark. In fact, we are insulted about the allegation, as Bandillo ng Palawan has always prided itself on carefully written analysis and news articles, and not tabloid-type stories such as those found in the website.
This may seem like a local issue, but it does have national repercussions. Some of the media personalities involved have connections to national media agencies, and we believe it is time for their head offices to act decisively. The broadcast industry is also governed by regulations, and the national government has the power to put a stop to the abuse of the airwaves not only in Palawan but in other communities as well.
Therefore, we consider it our urgent responsibility to issue the following alerts:
1. We call on the National Telecommunications Commission to closely monitor the abuse of the airwaves by radio commentators who are putting the lives of Palawan journalists and other personalities in danger. As the print media strives to publish news reports in a climate of fear, it is the duty of the broadcast industry’s regulators to ensure that the airwaves are used solely for the public good.
2. We call on the management of the radio stations concerned to impose disciplinary action on their commentators who are abusing their position at the expense of their media colleagues in Palawan.
3. We call on the
Philippine Daily Inquirer to provide the necessary safety measures to their local correspondent who has been implicated by DYER, and to ensure that local politicians do not hold sway over their editors in publishing news reports from Puerto Princesa City and Palawan.
4. We call on the provincial leadership of Palawan to ensure the protection of its constituents against potential harassment from misguided elements, and to help work for the speedy solution of Dong Batul’s assassination.
5. Lastly, we call on Mayor Edward Hagedorn to start working for harmonious relations in order to improve the peace and order situation in Puerto Princesa City. We are in a democracy and business groups, the religious sector, and civil society groups have all issued statements of concern about the impunity of criminals that your administration has allowed to prevail in our community.
In closing, we wish to express our support to the Palawan Community Media Council in its efforts to undertake a peace-making role among the members of the Palawan Press Club and other community journalists in the province. The
murder of Dong Batul has highlighted the division among members of the Palawan media, as well as the insidious role of local politics in fomenting disunity among local journalists. With cooperation from all sectors, we believe there is hope for Palawan’s media yet.

Hero's Burial for Dong Batul


"Paalam Dong" … We love you.
The simple handmade sign, accompanied by a lone candle on the windowsill, summed up the sentiments of thousands of PalaweÒos who joined the historic funeral march for popular broadcaster and former Puerto Princesa City Vice Mayor Fernando "Dong" Batul last June 3.
Young and old, rich and poor – there were no distinctions among the mourners who braved bomb scares and threats of reprisals from the city government just to pay their last respects to a man whom many people consider a local hero.
Extolled as Palawan’s version of Fernando Poe Jr. and Ninoy Aquino, Dong Batul was brutally gunned down on his way to work as host for the top-rated radio program Bastonero last May 22, just two days before his 37th birthday.
Despite the arrest of one suspect, his family and supporters believe Batul’s murder is far from solved, with the mastermind still actively involved in media manipulation to confuse the minds of the public regarding the first ever media killing in Palawan.
For 12 days and nights, thousands of people from all walks of life trooped to the wake at the Puerto Princesa funeral home and the chancery of the Immaculate Conception parish, where Batul’s remains were later transferred. Every night, friends and supporters recalled his bravery in fighting for the rights of oppressed people, who often sought his help in seeking justice against abusive officials.
Despite statements from city councilor Feliberto Oliveros that they would give proper honors to Batul, the city government did not offer any necrological service for the former vice mayor. The Batul family refused to receive a flag brought by a city official more than a week after the killing, and only city councilor Jimmy Carbonell went to the wake.
A few days before the funeral, text messages circulated in the city that warned residents of bomb threats during the planned march. Many city government employees reported receiving threats of sanctions if they joined the funeral march.

Six-hour funeral

Most people seem to have ignored the warning, as mourners came out in droves to attend the funeral mass and join the eight-kilometer march from the cathedral to the Puerto Princesa memorial park.
It was the biggest funeral march ever seen in Palawan, eclipsing even that of former House Speaker Ramon Mitra who died in March 2000.
Batul’s esteemed stature in the local community was highlighted by the presence of top church and government officials during the six-hour funeral.
Bishop Pedro Arigo celebrated mass at 8 a.m. and made the final blessing for Batul, while Gov. Joel Reyes gave a eulogy and presented the flag to Batul’s family.
But it was the Palaweño masses, impoverished people shod in slippers and unmindful of the baking noonday sun, who stole the show from the few well-heeled mourners.
Anguished supporters wept openly as they filed past Batul’s coffin at the cathedral for a final glimpse of their fallen hero. Many of them wore white T-shirts with the words "Justice for Dong" printed in front together with his image, and his favorite phrase "Ang mali ay nilalabanan, at ang tama ay ipinaglalaban" printed at the back.
In his eulogy, the governor said: "Nakaukit na sa istorya ng libro ng kasaysayan ng Palawan, si Vice Dong ay pinaslang sa pagbubukas ng Baragatan.
"Marami ang nanghihinayang, kasama na po ako. Hindi bayaran si Dong Batul. We hope that we can do as much as you can in a short period of time. We’d rather stay silent than say anything, pero sa ating mga tingin, alam na natin ang ating gagawin para bigyan ng hustisya si Dong," he added.
Jose Torres from the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines vowed: "Ipagpapatuloy namin ang laban ni Dong Batul at mabigyan ng hustisya ang kanyang pagkamatay."
Lawyer Lito Alisuag, who co-hosted a weekly program called Trayanggulo with Batul and former city mayor Dennis Socrates also on DYPR, could not hold back his tears as he sang the Josh Groban song To Where You Are after the mass.
"Di ko lubusang matanggap na ang isang taong peace-loving, maka-Diyos at makabayan ay sasapitin ang ganito. Siya ay matuwid, may paninindigan, may takot sa Diyos at handang ipaglaban ang bawat isa sa atin," said Jojo Gastanes, one of Dong Batul's closest friends.

DYPR Tribute
After the church rites, Batul’s coffin was placed on a flatbed truck festooned with balloons, many of them coming from overseas Filipino workers whose botched contracts in Taiwan had been the subject of Batul’s commentaries a month ago.
Dozens of supporters on motorbikes, as well as the multicab that Batul was driving when he was killed, preceded the truck as it wound its way down major city streets.
At the crime scene, three young journalists read a statement and lit candles as a symbol of their commitment to continue the ideals of principled journalism that Batul followed during his lifetime.
"Iisa lang at walang kaparis si Dong Batul, ngunit marami pang susunod sa kanyang yapak at magpapatuloy ng kanyang nasimulan," a campus journalist from the Palawan State University said.
"Bilang tinig ng mga naaapi, ipinaglaban ni Dong Batul ang karapatan ng mga taong walang boses sa lipunan. Nasa kamay nating mga kabataan ngayon ang tungkulin na tahakin ang landas tungo sa katarungan," she concluded.
The funeral cortege made another brief stop at the DYPR station, where Batul’s colleagues were waiting on the roadside. They aired a radio clip in which the charismatic commentator had spoken, almost prophetically, about death and "evil forces" that are out to harm individuals like him. DJ Regie ended the program with a soulful rendition of Paglisan, bringing tears to the eyes of many onlookers.
Along the road, many residents lit candles and displayed crude posters and banners expressing their support and mourning the loss of Batul. Supporters lining the crowded roads clapped their hands as the truck bearing Batul’s coffin approached.
Near the corner of Junction 1, two women shyly approached the truck and placed a bunch of flowers near his coffin, to resounding applause from the marchers.
5,000 Mourners
About half of the marchers boarded waiting vehicles near the capitol and continued the journey in cramped conveyances, while others braved the summer heat and marched on to the memorial park.
The number of marchers swelled as more people joined along the national highway, while hundreds more waited for the funeral procession at the memorial park. Independent observers estimated around 5,000 mourners by the time the funeral march had reached the memorial park in barangay San Jose at around 2 p.m.
Bishop Arigo officiated at the final ceremony before Batul’s remains were interred beside the grave of his father, who died two years ago.
The overwhelming turnout surprised many people in Puerto Princesa, who are all too aware about the enmity between Batul and Mayor Edward Hagedorn.
But in the end, the desire to honor a local hero who had dedicated his life to the welfare of the city’s underserved masses prevailed. Most of the marchers may have suffered blisters and sunburn, but it was nothing compared to Batul’s ultimate sacrifice.
The message posted on a gate expressed the finality of it all: Goodbye, Dong.