|Army in Davao vilifies journalist for contradicting military propaganda|
|Written by Carlos H . Conde|
|Monday, 18 June 2007 13:46|
Davao City - Malu Manar is no stranger to death threats. As a journalist who works and lives in Central Mindanao, where rebels, bandits and warlords are aplenty, she is bound to step on some toes every once in a while.
She had worked for the Catholic-ran DXND in Cotabato City since the early 1990s but moved to a sister radio station in Kidapawan City a few years ago after her family received death threats. She had been very critical of some local officials in her radio program and she believed that had something to do with the threats.
"When some men went looking for my two daughters at their school, that was it," Manar told Reuters last year. At one point, she started disguising herself, wearing a wig and sunglasses to avoid the people stalking her.
"It was difficult and painful. It was a traumatic experience for my family. Even now, I have not really lowered my guard. I still play hide-and-seek," she said.
But all the years she spent on the frontlines of Mindanao — reporting for DXND and filing dispatches for such newspapers as Manila Times, Today, Manila Bulletin and the online news site MindaNews - didn't prepare her for what happened one day in May.
That day, she received a package. Inside was a manila paper, scribbled with these words: "Death to supporters of the NPA - Alsa Masa." Alsa Masa is the notorious anti-communist group.
The incident unnerved Manar, who believes that the package was part of the Philippine military's vilification campaign against her, in which she has been called a communist and a member of the New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Indeed, the barrage of the military's criticism against her began soon after that incident.
Considering that more than 600 civilian members of such groups as Bayan Muna, who have been labeled by the authorities as communists, have been murdered since 2001, the allegation was particularly troubling.
"It would seem to me that these accusations would be a justification for harming me," the 35-year-old journalist told me over the phone from Kidapawan. "And then they would say that it was the NPA that killed me."
So Manar filed a complaint against an Army officer, Col. John Oswald Bucu of the 40th Infantry Battalion, who had been demonizing her relentlessly the past months.
In a letter to Bucu's superior, Col. Ruperto Pabustan of the Army's 602nd Infantry Brigade, Manar denied Bucu's accusations. "These are baseless accusations. Bucu has no proof, whatsoever, that I am such. This is conduct unbecoming of an officer: Accusing somebody of something without enough proof," she told Pabustan.
She wrote in her complaint that she had written on such issues as poverty and human rights, the plight of tribal peoples, workers, and women and children. "(Does) digging deeper into issues — not just accepting facts at its face value — make me a communist?" she asked.
But as far as the military is concerned, Manar has been a thorn in their side. Manar thinks that is mainly because she refuses to swallow the army's propaganda.
Manar, who has written and broadcast a number of documentaries and investigative reports, has questioned the military's actions in her daily radio show. When the army declared that they had convinced NPA rebels in Makilala, North Cotabato, to surrender, it turned out that these were merely residents who sympathized with the NPA, she says.
"They were not really rebels. They were just sympathizers but the military tagged them as rebels in their propaganda," Manar says.
When soldiers killed a resident in Columbio town last June 1, the military quickly declared that the victim, as well as six others who survived the incident, were NPA rebels. A subsequent investigation by Manar and her team established that the victims were, in fact, hunters who were unfortunate enough to wander into a militarized area.
Recently, in Magpet town, Manar found out that what the military had called a consultation with residents was actually a setup.
"They gathered all these people from seven villages. Among them were members of nongovernment and cause-oriented groups, who were told that they were to be brought to a gym for a barangay consultation. When the people arrived at the gym, placards denouncing the NPA and apparently prepared by the military were distributed among them," Manar recalls.
She also reported on the militarization of Arakan Valley due to the mining operations there, as well as the widespread land conversions in Magpet that favor banana plantations to the detriment of farmers and peasants.
She has also tackled what she called as the military's massive recruitment of tribal warriors to be used as paramilitary troops, a strategy that is common in many areas in Mindanao.
Manar wrote about these incidents and criticized the military in her radio show. "I gave the military enough space and opportunity to air their side," she says. "But oftentimes, the lies were just too much."
The military struck back by calling her a communist and a member of the communist party. "Malu is a communist. She should admit that, because communists are now accepted in the country," Bucu supposedly told Manar's colleagues once, according to an Inquirer report.
Asked by an Inquirer reporter about Manar's complaint, Bucu replied: "Why will she get mad if it's not true?"
Manar says the military is upset at her reportage because it does not favor them. "Their brain works this way: if you are not with them, you are against them."
She defends her journalism. "What I do is, I don't accept everything that the military says. Each time I receive a press release from them, for instance, I have it investigated by my people. That is my job as a journalist." davaotoday.com