The abduction of ABS-CBN reporter and anchorperson Ces Drilon and cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama reminds media persons again about the need to lay down security plans for coverage in insurgent/kidnapping hotbeds like Sulu and Basilan. This is not the first time scoop hunting became a nightmare.
Journalist Arlyn de la Cruz, who was then with the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Net25 TV station, was seized in Zamboanga on Jan. 20, 2002 while trying to interview Abu Sayyaf leaders. De la Cruz had contacts/friends in the bandit group but that didn’t assure protection because of the factionalized nature of Mindanao rebel organizations.
De la Cruz survived that nightmarish experience wherein he was physically harmed and constantly threatened with execution and was released 98 days after she was kidnapped. The official line was that no ransom was paid for her release but there were talks that reached Reporters Sans Frontieres about her abductors getting 43,000 euros.
On Sept. 28 of the same year, or a month after de la Cruz was released on April 27, GMA 7 reporter Carlo Lorenzo and Gilbert Ordiales were abducted in the town of Indanan in Jolo while interviewing Arola Abubakar of the Moro National Liberation Front. They were with a guide when Abubakar seized them in Barangay Talibang.
Lorenzo and Ordiales were released on Oct. 3 as the Philippine Army launched a search for them in Indanan and local officials intervened. GMA 7 denied a rumor that a ransom was paid. “I thought they were going to kill us, decapitate us, but we are safe and well,” Lorenzo had said after their release. The rebels, though, took some of their things.
In its 2003 annual report, Reporters Sans Frontieres said that the “Philippines, and in particular Mindanao island, remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.” Since that year, however, abductions by the Abu Sayyaf and other rebel factions in Basilan and Sulu waned. Sadly, so too some journalists’ vigilance dissipated.
I was one of those who questioned the decision of ABS-CBN news managers to allow Drilon and other TV personnel to stay at the Manila Peninsula Hotel when the group of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV was holed up there and government troops were poised to attack. Fortunately, Trillanes and his group gave up without much of a fight.
But my stand on the coverage of the Manila Pen siege has not changed, and this should apply to the Drilon abduction case as well: in the pursuit of scoops, journalists’ safety should be given prime consideration.
(I wrote this for my June 12, 2008 Candid Thoughts column in Sun.Star Cebu)