Three journalists in the Philippines said they received death threats after reporting alleged corruption in the construction of an expressway in Tarlac province, which is approximately 107 kilometers north of Manila.
In a letter to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines on 9 February 2011, George Hubierna, Nelson Bolos and Paul Gonzales said they had been receiving death threats since January 2011 after they reported alleged irregularities in the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX) project.
The journalists said in their letter that although they were “committed to continue our crusade against abuse of authority, corruption and environmental degradation, despite work-related hazards, prudence dictates that we seriously take the numerous ‘warnings’ and ‘death threats’ we have been receiving recently.”
Hubierna, a reporter for the Manila-based tabloids “People’s Journal” and “People’s Tonight” said he first received a threatening message on his mobile phone on 8 January 2011, the same day “People’s Journal” and “People’s Tonight” published his story on the resignation of then Gerona town police chief Supt. Calixto Bamba. Bamba allegedly resigned over a conflict with the town mayor on the implementation of Republic Act No. 8794 against overloaded delivery trucks carrying quarry materials through TPLEX. This law penalizes “trucks and trailers for loading beyond their prescribed gross vehicle weight.”
“If you are George Hubierna, you should be careful. You don’t know who you’re dealing with,” read a text message sent to Hubierna last 8 January through mobile number +639997430975. Hubierna received other threatening messages as “People’s Journal” and People’s Tonight” published his stories on the alleged scam.
Bolos, who was the researcher of Hubierna for his stories on the alleged “quarry scam”, also received a message from a former Gerona municipal official on 10 January 2011: “You’ve been identified with those publishing stories about the quarry.” Bolos also wrote about the controversies in the construction of the TPLEX in his “Tarlac Headline News” columns.
The publisher and editor-in-chief of “Tarlac Headline News”, Paul Gonzales, also received death threats on 24 and 26 January 2011 warning him to stop publishing stories with Bolos. “Let’s see how brave you and Bolos are. You’re both fools,” read the 24 January 2011 message to Gonzales. The number used to send this threat (+639497759315) was also used on 22 and 27 January 2011 to threaten Hubierna.
The 27 January 2011 threat sent to Hubierna read: “You’re really a fool. Let’s see if Bamba can do anything for you.”
On 7 February 2011, Bolos received a report that “two shady characters” were looking for him and Hubierna. The two unidentified men allegedly also carried photos of Bolos and Hubierna.
Hubierna, Bolos and Gonzales have also reported the incident to the police.
Journalists and media practitioners reporting on corruption in the provinces continue to be threatened despite the new national government’s promise to respect and protect freedom of the press in the Philippines. In January 2011, broadcaster Gerardo Ortega was killed allegedly over his reports on mining and alleged irregularities in the collection of returns from the Malampaya natural gas project in Palawan province.
CMFR (http://www.cmfr-phil.org) is a SEAPA founding member based in Manila, the Philippines, working to promote ethical journalism and to protect press freedom.