Aquino blasted for disrespectful treatment of Davao media

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THE DAVAO chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has lambasted Malacanang over its decision to disallow a group of journalists to cover the Bangsamoro forum on Thursday at the SMX Convention Center in Lanang, Davao City.

The forum’s main speaker was President Benigno Aquino III.

At least 20 journalists were not allowed entry to the convention center by the Presidential Security Guard.

Inside the venue, a member of the Malacanang Media Accreditations and Relations Office (Maro) told other journalists that there were too many journalists covering the event already, apparently as she justified the decision.

“It was, by all measure, disrespectful for the Office of the President to invite journalists to cover an important event and later shame them by disallowing entry to the forum where the President himself was to deliver a speech on the government’s efforts to ensure the progress of the Bangsamoro and the people of Mindanao,” said NUJP Davao chairperson Jessie Casalda.

The act, he said, was a “form of harassment of the members of the Fourth State whose only intention was to cover the forum” and a “classic act of clipping media freedom by a government that supposedly banners transparency and accountability.”

The Palace offered no explanations yet. But the media officer of the Department of Finance, that organized the forum, said they will issue a statement as NUJP Davao noted how journalists from Manila were allowed to enter the venue.

Several journalists have also aired their disgust over Malacanang treatment of the Davao media.

Carolyn Arguillas noted the failure of the organizers to agree on the supposed cutoff time for journalists entry to the forum — with different organizers saying the cutoff time was 9:00 a.m.,  9:30 a.m., and 10:00 a.m.

“And yet you allowed the Malacanang Press Corps in even if they came past your supposed cutoff?” Arguillas said. “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. But you have a cutoff for locals and no cutoff for Malacanang reporters, expect the local media to protest — those who were barred and those of us who were already inside.”

“P.S. Please learn to respect the media accreditation cards issued by government for us to gain access to the coverage venue. If you in government can’t honor these cards, please do not issue them anymore!” she said.

The barred journalists were allowed to later get in, but still prevented Davao Today photographer Ace Morandante.

“What was appalling was the fact that while Malacanang prevented Davao journalists from entering the venue, it allowed a group of journalists from Manila, the members of the Department of Finance Press Corps easy access,” Casalda said.

In September, Malacanang also barred a group of Davao journalists from covering a business forum where the President was also the main speaker.

Thursday’s incident even took a bizarre twist when the other Davao journalists were finally allowed entry, but stopped Davao Today photojournalist Ace Morandante. Davao Today is an alternative media online publication.

Casalda said Malacanang must explain why it singled out Morandante, despite the proper accreditation and endorsement given to him from the Philippine Information Office, the state’s information arm.

“It is disconcerting to think that the proclivity of the Aquino administration to treat media with disrespect is becoming one of the bad habits of the Aquino administration,” Casalda said. “Why, we ask, would the Aquino administration do this to the media? We take this as a symptom of a plague that hit the psyche of the administration – paranoia. And we ask — what kind of government is afraid of its people?”

This could be explained, Casalda said, by Aquino’s failure to solve media killings in the Philippines.

“It’s only the government who failed to address the killing of journalists and perpetrated the reign of impunity in the country, the kind of government who 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,” he said.

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