|Media en route to 'bakwits' held nearly an hour by military|
|Written by Carolyn O. Arguillas|
|Wednesday, 01 July 2009 07:48|
Around 40 journalists from Mindanao and Manila and some 20 representatives from civil society organizations traveling in a nine-van convoy en route to the evacuation centers in Datu Piang town were held at a military checkpoint along the Cotabato-General Santos highway for 46 minutes Tuesday morning.
Army personnel of the Bravo Company of the 46th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Bagan here stopped the convoy at around 7:50 a.m. but declined to say why the journalists were being held. One said they were just obeying orders from their superiors and that their commander had ordered them to stop the media first and “release” them when given the go-signal."MindaNews’ Froilan Gallardo, who was in the lead car, said the soldier who stopped their vehicle asked “kayo ba yung sa media?” The other vehicles who were not part of the convoy, were not stopped.
Journalists from various parts of Mindanao and Manila – from major TV, radio., newspaper and online publications -- are here for a three-day (June 29 to July 1) State Of the Bakwits (S.O.B) coverage, to look into the plight of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maguindanao.
Maj. Gen. Alfredo Cayton, 6th Infantry Division chief, told MindaNews by telephone that Col. Medardo Gelani, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, informed him that the order to hold the media was because his soldiers were still conducting clearing operations, allegedly to ensure the journalists’ safety from roadside bombs.
On Monday, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded at around 6:15 a.m. by the roadside in front of a bakery and coffee shop in Barangay Kitango, Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, killing two persons and injuring eight others. Another improvised bomb was reported to have exploded in the area shortly before noon but no one was injured.
Kitango is a village en route to Datu Piang.
Cayton said he had spoken to Geslani and had asked him to let the media pass. This was around 8:19 a.m. But instead of being told the journalists could now go, a military truck arrived with a lieutenant on board who said they were instructed by their superior to escort the media convoy to the 64th IB camp and leave them there
The journalists refused to be escorted, opting instead to remain where they were held.
Told about the proposed escorting to the 64th IB camp, Cayton asked that the mobile phone be given to the lieutenant. Cayton then gave instructions to the lieutenant, Alridzmar Sapending.
Sapending told reporters that before the call from Cayton, the instruction to them was to escort the media to the camp. He apologized for the delay before leaving the journalists to move on. It was 8:36 a.m.
Red Batario, executive director of the Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD), one of the organizers of the joint coverage, said of the checkpoint incident: “While the incident highlighted the obstacles faced by journalists trying to get the story out from remote areas, the bigger story was actually waiting to be told, written on the faces of people patiently lining up for relief goods under the noonday sun, children attempting to focus on their studies in classrooms beneath which families are huddled together in a dark, dismal place they now have to call home. “
The joint coverage is intended to be a run-up to President Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 27, her last as President as she is supposed to step down at noon of June 30 next year.
Ms Arroyo vowed an “all-out peace” when she assumed the Presidency from the ousted president, Joseph Estrada in 2001.
At least 29,000 IDPs, better known here as “evacuees” or “bakwits” have remained in Datu Piang’s poblacion, many of them for the last ten months since the renewed skirmishes between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after the aborted August 5, 2008 signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).
Evacuees have been complaining that relief goods have become fewer and far between.
Records also show there are more deaths from what would have been preventable diseases, especially among children in evacuation centers, than from actual armed encounters.
“The joint coverage aims to bring the issue of the IDPs to the President herself, to remind her there are still bakwits waiting to return home and hopefully, that she will act on the situation before another child dies from preventable disease or from malnutrition, in the evacuation centers,” the letter of invitation from the organizers said.
The joint coverage is being organized by the Mindanao ComStrat and Policy Alternatives, in cooperation with MindaNews, CCJD, the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network, and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, with the assistance of The Asia Foundation, USAID and the Canadian International
Development Agency. MindaNews.com