BACOLOD CITY – The media community in the central Philippine province of Negros Occidental was up in arms following the circulation since late last week of at least three lists of purported “drug protectors” that included at least 15 of their colleagues.
Aside from the media personalities, the anonymous lists name a party-list congressman, two town mayors, a vice mayor, four councilors, three of them from Bacolod City, several active and retired policemen, and supposed “drug personalities.”
However, in a unity statement, the local media community noted “the inconsistencies and seeming lack of logic in the composition of these lists,” which were basically the same but for some names that were replaced by others.
This, said the statement, indicated that the lists “were drawn up by conflicting parties out to destroy each other while, at the same time, attempting to muddle their tracks by including random names, including our colleagues.”
The signatories to the statement belonged to the Negros Press Club and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
The lists emerged close to a month after President Rodrigo Duterte, attending a private birthday party in this city, accused the then Bacolod chief of police, Francis Ebreo, and city councilor Ricardo Tan of involvement in drugs without offering any proof to back up his allegations. Ebreo was also sacked from his post.
The Negros media statement alluded to this, saying, “We have also seen how even ranking city and law enforcement officials have been arbitrarily accused of involvement in drugs without any valid proof being presented.”
Both Ebreo, who has also been accused in the December ambush of a lawyer whose fiancé was killed, and Tan, who himself survived an ambush, also in December, and has since gone on leave, were also named in the anonymous lists.
The journalists worried that the circulation of the anonymous lists could put their colleagues’ lives in danger and demanded that “authorities – both law enforcement and the civil government – uphold the rule of law and ensure the safety of all citizens, especially the innocent” by investigating and prosecuting those responsible for creating and spreading the lists.
“The first of these lists tagged those named as ‘subject for neutralization,’ a euphemism for killings, a serious threat considering that all three include the names of lawyer Rafael Atutubo and SPO (Senior Police Officer) 4 Oscar Exaltado, who were both murdered by still unknown gunmen,” the statement said.
Atutubo was killed last August while Exaltado, deputy chief of a station in Bacolo, was gunned down last month.
The Negros media noted that “even as the war on drugs claimed thousands of lives all over the country, almost all of the victims were deprived of their right to due process, Bacolod City has relatively been spared the bloodshed – until recently, that is.”
The journalists said that the anonymous lists were “unacceptable to us, not only as journalists but as citizens of this country who share and deserve to enjoy the rights guaranteed by our Constitution and the laws of the land. No one, and we mean no one, should be subjected to trial by publicity and, worse, punished without being accorded due process.”
Video of the press conference on 12 February 2019