STATEMENT: Stop the attacks against community journalists in Bicol
February 21, 2024

The Altermidya Network expresses alarm over the recent spate of attacks against community journalists in the Bicol region. These incidents undermine the crucial role of journalists in providing information and threaten their fundamental right to free expression.

Vince Casilihan, anchor of Pamana ng Lahi, and Reynard Magtoto of Baretang Bikolnon recently faced cases of harassment, vilification, and red-tagging reportedly perpetuated by state forces. Both Pamana ng Lahi and Baretang Bikolnon are affiliated with the Altermidya Network.

On Feb. 8, Casilihan was visited at his home by men claiming to be members of the Philippine Army. Four men arrived at around 11 in the morning, with two identifying themselves as Cpl. Señar and Ongo.

The soldier told Casilihan that he was being summoned by a certain Sgt. Jaranillo for a meeting. When asked for an invitation letter or document, the men were unable to provide any.

The day before incident, two individuals approached Casilihan outside his residence, questioning him about his destination. The men departed from the village but returned after an hour. Casilihan’s neighbors informed him that the men were conducting surveillance on him.

Meanwhile, the 93rd Civil Military Operations (CMO) Company of the Armed Forces of the Philippines attempted to summon Magtoto in Dec. 2023.

In a letter addressed to village officials where Magtoto resides, the 93rd CMO called upon the officials to “extend an invitation” to Magtoto for a meeting. The purpose of the meeting is purportedly to discuss matters related to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines-Bicol (NUJP).

As stated by the undersigned officer, Captain Michelle Estares, NUJP-Bicol falls within the “purview of the 903rd Infantry Brigade of the 9th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army” and is labeled as a “target sectoral front organization” in Albay.

Magtoto, who is also a director of NUJP, has been fervently advocating for the safety and welfare of press members in the Bicol region.

In January 2024, the Facebook page account ‘Green Spark’ uploaded a poster that included a photo of Magtoto alongside a women’s rights defender, falsely labeling them as members of CPP-NPA-NDF. On Feb. 10, Magtoto faced further online vilification, this time by a Facebook account named Michael Esteward.

Magtoto also reported that he was being tailed by 2 motorcycle riders the same day Casilihan was visited by state forces.

These attacks against community journalists underscore a disturbing trend of escalating threats to press freedom and the safety of journalists in the Bicol region. Altermidya Network condemns such actions that apparently aim to intimidate journalists from doing their work and fulfilling their mandate of truth-telling.

Altermidya Network strongly urges the government and state forces to respect and uphold the rights of journalists. Community journalists should be protected from any form of attacks, and should be able to carry out their work without fear of harm or intimidation. ###


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