In defense of press freedom

Punchline

Ali G. Macabalang

At the height of recent debates on the plight of ABS-CBN’s bid for franchise renewal before the House Committee on Franchises, some fans, workers and backers of the media entity had criticized me for taking the side of officials that exposed violations by its managements on issues of faithful tax payment, land property, handling of personnel, and etc.

I created two episodes in my YouTube blog channel questioning the improper lumping of press freedom aspect with the debate on renewal of the entity’s franchise. I said there was no breach of freedom in the debate because in the absence of franchise, the entity continued its broadcast operations via the internet links. In fact, it is still operating in such a fashion that the public still could view Vice Ganda and etal running noontime shows daily.

In my explanation of my stand in separate Facebook posts, two or more nitizens accused me of becoming a bogus media for not defending press freedom in the case of ABS-CBN. Of course, I lashed back at the critics and told them they had no idea how I fought for free press in real life.

Let me cite some instances where I risked my life and that of my family in defense of free press, particularly in Cotabato City where impunity by influential families once reigned.

Dalumpines-Hofer rift

One morning while taking a cup of coffee and writing two or more stories for transmittal to my Philippine Daily Inquirer desk, the Catholic-run dxMS heralded about a physical attack on its public affairs anchorman Gilbert Dalumpines by Assemblyman John Hofer right in the vicinity of the broadcast outfit. (Both of them are now deceased).

Because media practitioners then in Cotabato City were in disarray due to lack of organization by ourselves, I brokered a meeting with local broadcasters during which I raised options: Mediation, retaliation or court battle.

Gilbert then could not decide until ARMM First Regional Governor Zac Candao brokered a meeting between him and Hofer. At the meeting, I sat between the two protagonists. One or two escorts of Hofer were at the meeting.

On our way to the meeting, I offered to Gilbert any of my two side arms – a .22 cal. pistol and a .38 cal. revolver – for self-defense in case of adverse consequence. I brought both guns kept in my shoulder-bag at the meeting. He did not take any of the two, but sought my company.

Gov. Candao delivered a brief but precise message, and asked the two personalities to reconcile. At that juncture, I whispered to Gilbert, and asked again of his judgment call in choice of options. I told him I will fire my gun in case he suddenly opted for revenge.

Gilbert, with obvious heavy heart, opted for reconciliation, and a trade of handshake and embrace followed.

While exiting from the meeting venue, Hofer talked to me in Maranao vernacular, telling me that he sensed my takking cudgel for Gilbert. I answered him also in the dialect, saying that in my media practice, friendship is a priority but I valued equally the essence of press freedom.

The rift stemmed from misunderstanding over an unsuccessful conduct of live-interview by phone of John over dxMS’ “Bantayan” public affairs program. Gilbert claimed that John without prior notice called off the interview, but John argued that he waited for almost an hour in vain at the expense of discarding his earlier set morning appointments.

Nolasco-Tamse rift

Months after the Dalumpines-Hofer event, the dxRO (now non-operational) also complained in newscasts about the mauling of its anchorman Romy Nolasco by then elected city councilor Ferdinand Tamse, a lawyer.

I went to the dxRO and talked to Romy, his station manager Jess Cortez and their peers. I offered similar options to Romy and his colleagues. I told them I would stand by them in all of the options.

But unlike the past incident that drew a third person like Gov. Candao to mediate, Romy’s grievance had never been addressed for reasons he and his peers kept to themselves.

The reason behind Tamse’s mauling of Romy was not also clarified. Meanwhile, the media people in Cotabato City were one in belief about Tamse’s highhandedness, especially when he was under liquor influence. I had also seen the councilor wielding a handbag reportedly containing a gun.

One night at a then popular night spot called “Broad Street” near the city Cathedral, which some media workers including me patronized, I saw Tamse and then first-term councilor Jojo Guiani seated in a separate table. Four relative-companions and I occupied another table.

While in a huddle with my companions, we suddenly heard a noise apparently caused by the breakage of some bottles of beer being served by a waiter, who stumbled on the floor in front of Tamse’s table.

The waiter fell on the floor again when Tamse slapped and punched him. I did not know why the official made the attack.

In sympathy to the helpless waiter, sparked by my emotion over Tamse’s unsettled rift with Romy Nolasco, I approached the two council men and pacified further attack on the waiter.

I bluntly told Tamse to attack other persons capable of retaliating. I asked then neophyte councilor Guiani (who would eventually become a city mayor) not to get along often with Tamse because his political reputation was at stake.

Since that encounter where Tamse failed to manifest his usual high handedness, he had behaved well in dealing with media people.

(NOTE: My wielding of guns started when a relative politician punched me alone inside a coffee shop in Cotabato City in 1992. I filed a case in court and at the same time organized an armed group to retaliate. My attacker, who was enraged by my reportage of his wrong doings in the defunct autonomous government, and his elders begged for reconciliation and coughed up P40,000 cash as “diat” or blood money in feud. The PDI rallied behind me, publicizing the case in news stories and one editorial.)

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