Monday, August 4, 2008

Kidnap - Ces betrayed and now suspended

Coinciding with the AMIC media conference in Manila last month, the main Filipino television network ABS-CBN ran a gripping documentary about the abduction of one of the country's top journalists and her television crew by Abu Sayyaf guerillas in the southern region of Mindanao. Called Kidnap, it was mostly in Tagalog with a smattering of English but it should be mandatory viewing for any journos working in conflict zones. The Philippines remains one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. Cecilia "Ces" Drilon, a popular figure with Filipinos for her fearless reporting of rebel and guerilla showdowns, held the nation in suspense with her nine-day ordeal in June in which she and her two hostage camera crew and an academic guide were threatened with being beheaded. After being freed by their captors, Drilon admitted that “betrayal” led to their abduction in Sulu. In a press conference at a resort in Zamboanga City after being set free, Drilon said: “There was some betrayal involved kaya kami nakidnap (that’s why we were kidnapped).” She repeated these claims in a tearful interview in the Kidnap programme without indentifying who betrayed them. While thankful that the captives were freed after the payment of a ransom by the family, one of the ABS-CBN news excecutives, Maria Resson, praised the crew's courage but admitted that the TV channel had suspended Drilon because the crew had defied company protocols in dealing with rebels.
In Kidnap, Drilon also admitted that she expected "somebody's head to be chopped off" and she was prepared to die. Her colleagues said they go would go with her again on any assignment, anywhere.
The documentary also aired secret footage of the captors by cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion. Assistant cameraman/driver Angelo Valderama was released earlier. The peace advocate-guide was Professor Octavio Dinampo. The footage was used to identify at least two of the teenaged captors who have subsequently being arrested. Indanan mayor Alvarez Isnaji, from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and his son have also been arrested and accused over the kidnapping.
Meanwhile, the Philippines state has created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao after six years of dialogue in an attempt to bring lasting peace to the island of Mindanao.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Up close and personal with a Subic tiger (or two)

After the angry rumblings over Anwar Ibrahim's sudden arrest in Malaysia over more trumped up politically-inspired allegations (a celebrated speaker at last year's AMIC in Singapore, he was freed before delegates had time to issue a protest) and sessions on regional abuse of media freedom, the conference wound down with a series of R & R visits outside Manila. I chose Subic Bay Freeport to check out the development given that 19 years ago I was a journalist covering the international Peace Brigade protests about US presence at Subic and at the Clark Air Base. It's certainly an extraordinary and controversial attempt to turn a military base through "volunteerism"into a tax and duty free zone like Hongkong or Singapore. Former colonial power Spain established an arsenal and ship-repair facility at Subic Bay in 1885. But the US took over after the Spanish-American War and turned Subic Bay into a US Navy and Marine base. It was critically important during the Vietnam War as the base of the Seventh Fleet. After protacted protests after the ousting of Marcos, the Philippine Senate finally rejected US terms for extending the lease of the base. Sadly, the memorial outside the SDF headquarters honouring the 12 senators who were key to giving the US the boot from the base has been poorly maintained. Four of the plaques have vanished altogether. The last US warship, USS Belleau Wood, slipped out of Subic Bay on November 24, 1992. Most interesting for my visit was the nature and marine parks that have been created. A minor drama for our small AMIC group was feeding a couple of aggressive tigers in the "tiger safari" park. We were well-protected, of course. Instead of humans visiting the zoo, it was more like tigers being up close and personal with humans inside caged vehicles.
Pictured include Pacific Media Centre director David Robie, Angie Chew of AMIC (rear) and Zulkarimein Nasution of Universitas Indonesia (right).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Journo killing 'intolerable violation' in Philippines

While UNESCO has condemned the murder of Filipino journalist Robert Sison and called on Philippines authorities to protect media workers, more than 500 people from Asia and the Pacific have gathered in Manila for a major regional media conference. UNESCO director-general Kochiro Matsuura said the targeting of journalists was an 'intolerable violation' of freedom of expression. Sison, 60, was the second journalist killed in the Philippines this year and the 56th since 2001. Meanwhile, the vice-president and a former president of the Philippines have been keynote speakers at this 17th Asian Media, Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) conference at the historic Manila Hotel. Vice-President Noli "Kanayan" De Castro, once a broadcaster himself, urged the media to remind people, governments and institutions that compassion and generosity are needed to fight the forces of poverty and injustice. The media needs to keep shaking governments out of their complacency. Former President Fidel Ramos appealed to communication students and journalists, calling for "sharing, caring and daring" from the media in dealing with the Millenium Development Goals. A new Pacific media book, South Pacific Island Communications: Regional Perspectives, Local Issues, co-published by AMIC, AUT University's Pacific Media Centre and the University of the South Pacific, was one of six publications launched at the conference. An interesting chapter by Robert Iroga, former editor of the Solomon Star, with some interesting insights when you work at a newspaper with threatening gunmen in your face.
On Wednesday, Sarah Baker and Jeanie Benson presented a stimulating paper, "The suitcase, the samurai and the pumpkin," about Asian crime and how it is framed by NZ media.

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