Correspondent Threatened

24 March 2003
Source: Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR)

A correspondent for the Philippines’ most widely circulated broadsheet has been threatened with death after she submitted a news story about the chief of a staff of a provincial vice governor who is also the son of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Several policemen are now guarding Tonette Orejas, Central Luzon correspondent of the “Philippine Daily Inquirer”, after the reporter started receiving on 15 March 2003 death threats through phone calls and SMS (100short message service) messages.

Orejas claims that the death threats started when she submitted 13 March a news story regarding the filing of charges of acts of lasciviousness against Augusto Sanchez, said to be the chief of staff of Pampanga vice-governor and presidential son Miguel Arroyo.

Orejas said that Sanchez’s wife filed the case against her husband on 7 March at a local trial court in Pampanga, after Sanchez’s stepdaughter claimed that she had been sexually abused by Sanchez.

In a March 16 email, Orejas said she did not name Sanchez, his alleged victim, and the victim’s mother in the story. She added that the story has not yet seen print.

When Sanchez’s wife asked for help, the “Inquirer” correspondent also said that she gave legal referrals to the former and referred the alleged victim to a counselor.

Upon receiving information that Sanchez was leaving abroad for an unknown destination, Orejas said she called a contact who confirmed that a “man with the same name as the suspect appeared in the passenger manifest of a plane bound for Hong Kong” on March 14.

According to Orejas, she tried to call, and sent SMS messages to the suspect, but he never replied. In the last two messages he sent earlier, Orejas said, Sanchez “expressed feelings of remorse and asked for forgiveness from us his friends.”

On 15 March, Orejas received a phone call from a person who identified himself as a certain Don Aviado, warning her not to write on the case. Aside from later calls from Aviado which she did not answer, Orejas also received numerous SMS messages from an unknown person which both threatened her for doing the story and tried to bribe her in withdrawing it.

Orejas said she was puzzled because Aviado already knew that she was “working on the story and reacted to a story that has yet to see print.” She asked: “Who could have ordered him to threaten me?”

In her later SMS messages to CMFR, Orejas said that she suspects that the caller is just using Aviado’s name. She said that the caller sounds like a 40-year-old man. Aviado, in her research, is 60 years old. “By his voice,” she said, “I can tell he’s not the man.”

According to Orejas, Sanchez “who writes all of (Miguel Arroyo’s) correspondence,” used to work with then vice-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. According to her, Miguel Arroyo on 18 March said that “he knew that Sanchez had left the country (but) gave no details.” At present, she said, “there is no official word on where he’s gone but he did not appear in the March 20 preliminary investigation” on the case filed against him.

Orejas said that while it is investigating the case, the Pampanga Press Club (PPC), “the nearest press organization I could rely on, has not taken any concrete actions to protect me and defend my rights as a journalist.”

However, Diosdado Pangilinan, president of the PPC, said that the club hasn’t come up yet with a resolution condemning the threats against Orejas because the club is still determining if the threats are work-related.

Pangilinan said some club members view the problem as a personal matter. As far as the club knows, Pangilinan said, Orejas is a family friend of the Sanchezes. And Orejas even helped Sanchez’s wife in filing a case against the government official, which makes the threats “not directly in the line of her duty.”

“And she (Orejas) has not come up yet with a story on the incident,” he added. If there is a story that Orejas wrote regarding her case, then the PPC “would have a basis for issuing a resolution denouncing the threats.”

Pangilinan also asked whom it should address should the club issue a statement denouncing the threats. “We have to be careful, because we don’t want to step on everybody’s toes,” he said.

According to Orejas in a March 19 email interview, she asked her bureau chief “to pull the story from the desk.” “I would not dare stake my life on a story that, at that point, does not involve national interest,” she explained.

CMFR will continue to investigate this case.

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