Broadcaster reporting on Paquibato abuses gets threats

Mar. 22, 2009

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY Monday, March 16, would have been another day for Elgin Damasco, the news director of radio station DXDC-Davao of the Radio Mindanao Network (RMN).

He went to work early for his morning news program, “Tinuod nga Balita” (The Real News) but 15 minutes towards the end of the program, while he was still on air, Damasco received a chilling text message from an unknown sender.

“Ka Damasco, mula ng kayong tatlo ay naging spokesman ng NPA, matagumpay kayong nanalo sa propaganda laban sa AFP, dahil dyan may reward kayong tatlo (Ka Damasco, since the three of you became spokespersons of the New Peoples Army, you won in the propaganda war against the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Because of that, the three of you will earn your reward), the message read.

The day after he received the text message, Damasco packed all his office belongings. He filed an indefinite leave of absence from his radio station.

Damasco was in Paquibato three weeks ago to check on reports of residents allegedly beaten by soldiers. He interviewed a village official who told him how a military officer beat up residents in the area.

Elgins reports about the beatings prompted an investigation by the City Council.

On March 1, Damasco went up to Paquibato again to do a follow-up report.

Residents asked to hitch a ride on his way back to the city, fearing they cant make it on time to the City Council probe the next day. Damasco readily agreed to the request. He spent the night at the village hall and left early morning the next day.

But on their way back to Davao city, soldiers stopped their vehicle in one village in Paquibato and asked the people inside to present their cedula (community tax certificate) for inspection. Soldiers said they only honor cedulas with the initials of a military officer at the back.

Shocked at the militarys treatment of civilians, Damasco told everyone in the vehicle that they had the option not to bring out their cedulas. This angered the officer manning the checkpoint, causing a heated argument that Damasco put live on the air.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines Davao denounced the attack, saying the text message was meant to intimidate Damasco and all other journalists who have the courage to brave the dangerous places in the region.

NUJP-Davao also expressed concern over the safety of Damasco.

Suspicious-looking men were recently seen around Damascos neighbourhood. Neighbors said the men were asking about him and Dodong Solis, the RMN-DXDC Davao station manager, who happens to live nearby.

NUJP-Davao said that in a violent environment like Paquibato, where people turn to the media to air their grievances, journalists become targets of attacks.

Damasco also reported the story of Benedictine nun Sister Stella Matutina and three other anti-mining advocates who were rounded up and detained for eight hours by soldiers at the village hall of Barangay Taytayan in Baganga town, Davao Oriental. The military denied Sr. Matutinas claim but Damascos reports proved otherwise. Damasco was also one of the journalists who interviewed NPA leader Commander Parago following the gruesome murder of his daughter, Rebelyn Pitao.

NUJP-Davao asked fellow journalists to remain strong and united in the face of such attacks.

NUJP-Davao also asked people to rally behind the struggle for press freedom. The NUJP statement said that the group could not find any other better ally than the people who ultimately are the victims of these assaults on press freedom. (Cheryll Fiel/

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