ZAMBOANGA CITY: Media groups and government officials have condemned the ambush attempt on ABS-CBN Northern Mindanao news team in Marawi City on Saturday, calling it a “cowardly act” as investigations into the attack began to unmask the perpetrators and their motive.
News reporter Ronie Enderes and his crew—cameraman Emelito Balansag and driver Garry Monte¬cillo—were on a media vehicle when fired upon along Banggolo Street at about 12:30 p.m. by motorcyle-riding gunmen.
The victims were en route to the Mindanao State University campus in Marawi City from Ditsa Ramain town of Lanao del Sur where they were pursuing a story on another spate of bombings at the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) power lines.
In a statement, the ABS-CBN strongly condemned the incident and thanked the 103rd Infantry Brigade for providing temporary refuge to the news crew.
“We urge the authorities to investigate this ambush and bring the perpetrators to justice soonest, even as we vow to continue with our duties as journalists,” it said.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on Saturday immediately called on authorities to conduct a probe into the incident.
“The NUJP reminds the Aquino Administration that incidents like this are a shameful reminder of the culture of impunity that has become the norm rather than an aberration in a democracy such as ours,” the union of journalists said.
NUJP Iligan City chapter said the incident cast a “chilling effect among journalists covering Marawi City and Lanao del Sur, which used to be relatively safe places for media.”
Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr., also in a statement, said: “We condemn hostilities such as this done to our constituents and most especially, to the visitors of our province.
“The fourth estate, indeed, plays a vital role in nation-building and therefore, we involve them in the process, not harm them. No one deserves such brutality, especially during this holiday season of peace,” he added.
Mujiv Hataman, governor of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), expressed disapproval of the treacherous act and strongly called an end to violence against media members.
“(We) agree that the attack underscores the brazenness of armed groups to target even the media who are only out to do their duty as members of the fourth state and perform their profession in the name of press freedom.
“The regional government of ARMM joins those who are calling to end media violence in the country as we stand with journalists and media organizations against these unacceptable attacks,” Hataman added.
Adiong, Hataman and Enderes, head of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines Iligan City-Lanao del Norte chapter, both called on the military and the police to investigate the incident and take serious action against lawless elements in Marawi City.
Enderes said he knew that his team was being tailed by armed men onboard two motorcycles before they were waylaid past noon on Dec. 26.
“We noticed the two motorcycles with two men riding in each following us and so Montecillo sped but they kept on chasing us until we reached Banggolo,” he said.
They were able to take footage of the attackers before they were fired upon.
Radicalized jihadists eyed
Col. Roseller Murillo, commander of the Marawi city-based 103rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army, told The Manila Times that “it is hard to speculate” but he added that they are also eyeing the possibility that radicalized jihadists— members of the Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM)—could be behind the attack.
“No evidence to show as of this time that they were the culprits, but it is possible,” he said.
The KIM, locally known as Ghuraba or strangers in Lanao del Sur, were also suspects in the previous killings of local vendors, army and police personnel including Marawi city police chief Supt. Al Abner Wahab Santos.
The KIM is also being monitored for the previous bombing of NGCP towers in Lanao provinces, as well as attacks in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.