(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.