Originally published on the Facebook page of NUJP on 17 July 2018.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines strongly condemns the 4th Civic Military Operation Battalion of the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines for preventing journalists from covering the mass evacuation of Manobo Lumad in Lianga, Surigao del Sur yesterday, Monday, July 16.
Five Davao City-based journalists from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Radyo ni Juan Network, Kilab Multimedia, The Breakaway Media and Davao Today were flagged down at about 11 o’clock yesterday by elements of the 4th CMO Battalion at Kilometer 3, Sitio Neptune in Diatagon, Lianga and were told not to proceed to where the evacuees were gathered.
A Major Jason Igloria, battalion ground commander manning the checkpoint, ordered the journalists to first secure a permit from the Lianga Municipal Social Welfare and Development offier before they would be allowed to cover the evacuation. “Hintayin niyo yung MSWD kung papayagan kayo (Wait if MSWD would allow you),” Maj. Igloria told them, claiming the place was an “ambush area” and therefore dangerous.
The MSWD, without any explanation at all, also refused to allow the journalists from going to where the evacuees were.
We stress that, in the absence of clear and present danger, neither the Army, MSWD, or any government agency has the authority to prevent any Filipino citizen from enjoying the freedom to travel and, in this case, stop journalists from covering what is clearly an event of utmost public interest and concern.
And even if it was, indeed, dangerous, is it not precisely the military’s mandate to protect, if not the journalists, surely the evacuees? Just as it is the MSWD’s duty to provide them assistance? Would not preventing coverage of their plight actually be depriving them of assistance by withholding information that could help solicit more aid for the evacuees?
Martial law does not justify the arbitrary restriction on coverage of the Lumad evacuation, unless, of course, we have ceased to be a democracy. What happened was a clearly unconstitutional violation of press freedom and, more importantly, of the people’s right to know.