DAVAO CITY: Mediamen based in this city have blasted members of the Malacañang’s Media Accreditations and Relations Office (MARO) who reportedly refused them entry to cover the Bangsamoro forum where President Benigno Aquino 3rd was main speaker last Thursday at the SMX Convention Center in Lanang, Davao City.
In a statement, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)- Davao City chapter said at least 20 local journalists were denied entry to the venue purportedly because “there were too many journalists covering the event already.”
“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 is yet to offer an explanation for the incident that was made even worse by reports that while local journalists were denied entry, journalists from Manila especially those from the Mala-cañang Press Corps were allowed to cover the event even if they arrived past the cutoff time.
Carolyn Arguillas, Minda News editor, said 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 a.m. while others said the cutoff was 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.- as one of the reasons for the confusion.
“And yet you allowed the Malacañang Press Corps in even if they came past your supposed cutoff,” Arguillas said.
“We have no quarrel with the Malacañang 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 Malacañang reporters, expect the local media to protest—those who were barred and those of us who were already inside,” she added.
“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!” Arguillas stressed.
In September, Malacañang also barred 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 not Davao Today photojournalist Ace Morandante.
Casalda said Malacañang must explain why it singled out Morandante, despite the proper accreditation and endorsement given to him by the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), the state’s information arm.
“It is disconcerting to think that the proclivity of the Aquino administration to treat media with disrespect is becoming a bad habit,” 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?” he asked.
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 Ampatuan massacre five years ago,” he said.