Eastmincom, MIPC agree to condemn scare tactics and work for journalists safety

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DAVAO CITY—Open communication lines, security provision for threatened journalists and condemn scare tactics from difference forces.

These are among the agreed courses of action that key military officials of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) and journalists representing the Mindanao Independent Press Council (MIPC) have agreed Monday (Sept. 2), following a two-hour dialogue to tackle the “red-tagging” of several media personalities here and in Cagayan de Oro City.

Led by its president, Editha Z. Caduaya, MIPC requested the dialogue to clarify the perceived role of government security forces—especially the military—in “red-tagging” and to hammer out concrete steps that will ensure the safety of journalists in Mindanao who are unfairly labelled as enemy combatants or supporters of any armed rebel group.

Both parties agreed to end the use of word “red-tagging” but instead use scare tactics as other media organization like the AFP/PNP press corps  during the dialogue revealed they are labeled as ‘pro-military’ and are no longer  invited to cover activities involving the militant groups and the rebel activities.

“Mindanao journalists are caught in the scare tactics and propaganda war between the government and the rebel movement.

But both sides need to understand that we just want to do our work, and we try do our best to bring accurate and balanced information as neutral participants,” Caduaya told Eastmincom officials.

In response, the military officials headed by Eastmincom chief Lt. Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., Brig. Gen. Ernesto Torres Jr., Eastmincom deputy commander, and Brig. Gen. Franco Nemecio Gacal of the Cagayan de Oro-based 4th Infantry Division, assured that Eastmincom and the military units under it does not maintain a list of journalists being suspected as supporters or combatants of any armed rebel group.

“What have is a black and white list—it’s either you are a member or a platoon leader of the NPA (New People’s Army) or not. We only keep a list of active NPA combatants so that we can engage and talk about peace with them, and explore possibilities for their surrender,” Gacal said.

Gacal described the two “red-tagged” Cagayan de Oro-based journalists, Cong Corrales and Froilan Gallardo, as friends, and assured that they are not suspected of being an NPA supporter or a member.

He pointed out that Gallardo is even a member of a multisectoral body that regularly reviews the plans and programs of the 4ID.

“So it’s illogical for us to resort to this so-called red-tagging, or the scare tactics associated with individuals who are being red-tagged, because we know that the other side will blame it on us. It’s a cheap propaganda and it’s very counterproductive for us,” the 4ID chief maintained.

The major “actionable items” that the MIPC and Eastmincom officials have initially agreed are:

  • For Eastmincom to help law enforcement authorities investigate the cases of “red-tagging”, and to inform MIPC on the findings of any such investigation
  • For Eastmincom to provide security for any threatened journalist, as may be coordinated by MIPC or any media organization
  • That Eastmincom guarantees that all its units comply with the “no red-tagging” policy for journalists, including all related acts that put the lives of journalists in danger  
  • For Eastmincom to coordinate with MIPC should any journalist within its jurisdiction be suspected for being an active combatant of any armed rebel group

Santos said the “path of actions” agreed by MIPC and Eastmincom demonstrated the importance of the media in the government’s peace-building initiatives.

“You are the bridge that connects us to the communities that we want to have meaningful engagement with, as we work towards lasting peace. We have always viewed the media to be an important partner in the whole-of-nation approach to ending the communist insurgency,” the Eastmincom chief said.

Torres, the Eastmincom deputy chief, also appealed to the media to remain “objective and fair”.

“We understand your role as journalists, and rest assured that we will not interfere with your job nor begrudge you with your editorial decisions. We just need you to remain impartial in your editorial work,” Torres said.

Caduaya, the MIPC president, agreed, emphasizing the need for journalists to maintain their independence, and reminding  them of their watchdog role.

“We can’t be effective, reliable watchdogs if our independence is compromised, if there is ideological bias in our work. We have to remember that our oath is to the people. We work for the public good and no one else,” she said.

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