AlterMidya, a national network of alternative media practitioners, calls for the dropping of charges against the “Haran 15”, which includes one of our members from Kilab Multimedia, Jaja Necosia.
The Haran 15 is a collective term for fifteen human rights advocates, church workers and individuals who were among those who supported the Lumad when they evacuated to the UCCP church in Haran, Davao City last year. They were charged with the kidnapping and illegal detention of around 800 Lumad who took refuge in the Church compound.
In 2015, Lumad families fled their homes after military operations intensified in several communities in Davao Del Norte, Bukidon, and North Cotabato. Military and paramilitary groups also occupied several Lumad communities. In June 2016, Lumad leaders learned that a Davao City regional trial court had issued a warrant of arrest for the Haran 15.
Necosia was in UCCP-Haran to cover the evacuation and to report on the situation of the Lumad refugees. He covered the press conferences of the Lumad leaders as well as the so-called attempted rescue of Rep. Nancy Catamco of the refugees in July 2015. Necosia was the one who shot the video of woman Lumad leader Bai Bibyaon Bigkay admonishing Rep. Catamco over her violent attempt to evict the displaced Lumad from UCCP-Haran. In April this year, he was also among those who caught on video the violent dispersal of North Cotabato farmers protesting in Kidapawan.
The charges against Necosia are an infringement of press freedom and the right to free expression. Legal actions against journalists like this are calculated to create a “chilling effect” among the rest of the media covering critical events such as the plight of the Lumad in militarized communities.
The charges are clearly fabricated and malicious. Besides lacking in evidence, the indictment was done to intimidate supporters and individuals in Haran and implicate them in preposterous criminal cases. It is also a form of harassment intended to limit public support for Lumad issues.
We call on the Department of Justice to immediately drop the charges against our colleague Necosia and the rest of the Haran 15. We also call on our fellow media practitioners to join us in opposing all attacks against press freedom and those other actions that prevent journalists from fulfilling their responsibility of upholding the public’s right to know.