A radio broadcaster in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato in southern Philippines received a death threat attached to a funeral wreath on 28 April 2010. North Cotabato is a province approximately 956.14 kilometers south of Manila.
Williamor Magbanua, 30, a radio blocktimer at dxND of the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation, and information officer of incumbent Kidapawan City Representative Bernardo Piñol Jr., said he found the wreath hanging over the fence of his house at around 5:30 in the morning (local time). Magbanua is also a correspondent for the Manila-based broadsheet “Philippine Daily Inquirer” and of the online news magazine GMANews.TV. A blocktimer is a freelance practitioner who purchases “blocks” of radio time for a program for which he then solicits advertisements. Blocktimers have been accused of being in the payroll of politicians especially during elections.
Attached to the wreath was a note in the Visayan dialect saying that Magbanua had violated the rules of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) because he was peddling lies which trampled on the rights of women.
The note was signed by a certain Dencio Madrigal, who said he was the spokesperson of the Front 72 Valentin Palamine Command of the New People’s Army (NPA) Far South Mindanao. The NPA is the armed group of the CPP. Magbanua, however, said he did not think the wreath and the threat came from the NPA, but from the camp of the political rival of Piñol, who, however, immediately denied that it came from her.
The alleged NPA spokesperson said that if Magbanua persisted, he would “face the consequences.”
Before receiving the wreath, Magbanua said he had noticed suspicious men following him. Last weekend, on 24 April, two unidentified men on a motorcycle, with its headlights off, followed him on his way home from the office of his boss, Rep. Piñol. This happened again the next day (25 April).
The night he received the threat (28 April 2010), an unidentified man was seen standing under a lamppost outside his house. The man was later picked up by another man on the same motorcycle used to stalk him.
Magbanua thinks the threat is election-related. He told the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility that the threat could have come from Piñol’s political rival, Nancy Catamco. Catamco, who, according to Magbanua, has been saying that he has been fabricating stories about her.
Magbanua denied that he has demeaned women in his radio program. “Never in my program,” he said. He challenged Catamco to listen to the recordings of his program to prove her allegations. “She is creating all those rumors,” Magbanua said in Filipino.
He also said in an interview with National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) Kidapawan Chapter Chair Malu Manar that “this is not the way the NPA writes their press statements. As a radio reporter who used to write stories about the NPA, I know how the rebels write and send their statements.”
On 30 April 2010, Manar received in her e-mail an open letter of the NPA Front 72 Valentin Palamine Regional Operations Command denying that the threat on Magbanua came from them. The group said: “May we reassure Mr. Magbanua that, as a matter of policy, and as track record shows, the NPA does not send death threats, not even to those who have been found guilty by the Hukumang Bayan (People’s Court.) The NPA through its Eight Points of Attention strictly follows the rules and regulations on the proper conduct towards civilians, including Mr. Magbanua.” The “Open Letter to Williamor Magbanua” dated 29 April 2010 was signed by Ka Dencio Madrigal.
Catamco denied the accusation of Magbanua in an interview with Manar. “I won’t do that, of course,” she said. According to Catamco, her supporters have heard him (Magbanua) say disgraceful things against her during the campaign.
Upon receiving the threat, Magbanua immediately went to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Kidapawan and filed a report. Policemen have been assigned to guard his house from 2:00 p.m. until dawn.
According to the local police, there are still no leads as to who sent the funeral wreath and the threat. Magbanua has not filed a complaint.
CMFR (http://cmfr.com.ph/ ) is a SEAPA founding member based in Manila, the Philippines, working to promote ethical journalism and to protect press freedom.