DAVAO CITY — The barring of some media personnel by security personnel and the delayed entry of many to a forum is a “paranoia” on the part of the government, says a local chapter of a media organization.

Jessie Casalda, chairperson of the National Union of Journalist of the Philippines (NUJP) – Davao City Chapter, said in statement that at least 20 members of the Davao media were barred from covering the Philippine Development Forum (PDF) on the Bangsamoro keynoted by President Benigno Aquino III on November 6, Thursday.

Casalda in an interview said that security concerns are “valid” but added that Davao journalists “were already endorsed by the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) XI, as a usual practice observed during Presidential coverage.”

“In fact there is a pre-registration the day before and they are willing to submit themselves to routine security checks like they have done so in previous Presidential coverages,” said Casalda.

The PIA XI staff facilitated the listing of local news reporters for verification and be issued IDs from the organizers of the PDF.

“Perhaps the (Aquino) government is afraid of its people as it failed to address the killing of journalists and perpetrated the reign of impunity in the country. That kind of government that failed to deliver justice to the 58 people, 32 of them journalists killed in the carnage known in the whole world as the Ampatuan massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao five years ago,” said Casalda.

“The Palace offered no explanation yet. However, a member of the Malacanang Media Accreditations and Relations Office (Maro) was only heard saying there were too many journalists covering the event already,” said Casalda in an emailed statement.

At 11 am, minutes before the arrival of President Aquino, journalists were still arguing the issue with organizers.

One of the journalists was said to have raised his voice hours earlier.

“This is an insult to press freedom (this is an insult to freedom of expression),” he was quoted shouting to members of the Presidential Security Group.

Sunstar Davao writer Antonio Colina took a “groupie” photo with Mindanao Times’ Kristianne Fusilero and Cheneen Capaon during the incident posted it in facebook.

“We were not allowed to enter the venue of PDF on Bangsamoro while the Malacañang press corps who came in late were made to enter the convention,” said Colina.

Meanwhile, Mindanews Editor-in-Chief Carolyn Arguillas, in her facebook post, said that organizers told “lies” about a cut-off for local media “and no cut off for Malacanang reporters.”

“We have no quarrel with the Malacanang beat reporters, it’s their right to cover just as it is the right of local reporters to cover.” Please learn to respect the media accreditation cards issued by government for us to gain access to the coverage venue. If (you) in gov’t can’t honor these cards, (please) do not issue them anymore!” said Arguillas.

Davao Today photojournalist Ace Morandante was put on hold to be “cleared” despite being issued an ID by the organizers and being included in the list.

“The mall security officer earlier approached me and whispered that he knows our plans and not to go on with it which got on my nerve,” he said.

Morandante said the security officer “accused me of being a member of the militant group who was taking video footages of the protest inside the mall last September, when the President also came to visit.”

“I showed the PSG the ID of the PDF, my company ID and he checked it with the list. My name was the last in the list he couldn’t have missed it. But instead of allowing me to enter, he showed me out as I have to be cleared,” said Morandante.

Outside the main entrance of the mall where Moro group Suara Bangsamoro and Bayan held a protest, mall guards were also shooing journalists off.

“The media is only allowed to cover in the SMX, they are not allowed here,” said a security officer to one of the guards.

TV cameramen were angered.

“Who are they to tell us what not to cover,” said a TV5 cameraman.

Casalda called the act “disrespectful.”

“What happened Thursday was not the first time. Malacanang did the same thing in September – also victimizing Davao journalists,” he said.

Casalda said the Aquino government “is more interested in cover-up and secrecy rather than transparency over what should have been an important affair that every Mindanaoan has the right to know.”

“This violation of the freedom of the press must end,” said Casalda.

The incident also made the headlines today in Davao City’s major newspapers, with journalists saying it was an act of discrimination and an affront to press freedom.

Sunstar Davao’s headline read: “Manila in, Davao out” while The Mindanao Daily Mirror’s headline said “Davao media barred at PDF”, The Mindanao Time’s headline read: “Unfair Treatment (Journalists slam continued unequal Presidential coverage policy).”

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