Tabloid Columnist Accuses PTFoMS Director of Sending Death Threats; Task Force Director Denies Allegation
CMFR/PHILIPPINES – A tabloid columnist reported receiving death threats allegedly from the executive director of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) after his articles criticizing the performance of the task force appeared in his paper. The executive director denied the accusation.
Mat Vicencio, a columnist for the tabloid Hataw, published four columns from August to November this year questioning the supposed inaction of the PTFoMS and its executive director Joel Sy Egco on the five cases of media killings that happened after the creation of the task force, particularly on the case of Chris Lozada who was killed on 24 October 2017. Vicencio said that Egco only manages to post press releases and “propaganda” on his Facebook page, and called on him to resign.
After his fourth column on the issue, Vicencio reported receiving a text message from an unidentified mobile number at 5:59 pm of 22 November 2017, which said he won’t make it till Christmas and that he should stop his criticism (“Hindi ka aabot ng Pasko. Itutumba ka namin gago ka itigil mo banat sa akin.”). He reported the incident to the Quezon City Police District in Camp Karingal the following day.
In a phone interview with CMFR, Vicencio said it was the first time he has received a death threat. He also said that he does not have enemies, and that he thinks the threat came from Egco. Prior to receiving the threat, Vicencio said two of his colleagues had informed him that Egco had been asking about his whereabouts.
On 5 December 2017, Vicencio received a phone call on his home landline. The caller told him to stop his “foolishness” (“Tigil mo na ‘yang kalokohan mo. May katapusan din ‘yan”). Vicencio and his wife, editor-in-chief of Bandera tabloid Dona Policar, suspected that the source of the threat had already entered their house, as their number is not listed in their telephone service provider’s directory. Policar told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that their landline had been installed only six months ago.
Egco denied the allegation. In a statement emailed to CMFR on 13 December 2017, he said: “It is not in my nature to threaten anybody, not even the suspects involved in crimes against journalists. This can be attested to by all those who know me, in and out of media.” Egco said it was suspicious that Vicencio was attacking him and the PTFoMS instead of “the people who have threatened or attacked media workers.”
Egco said he is preparing to take legal action against Vicencio for his “personal and vicious” attacks in his column. However, Egco said he has “given instructions for the conduct of a deeper investigation into Mr. Vicencio’s claims as it is the mandate of PTFoMS to look into threats against media workers.”
In a text message sent to CMFR staff also on 13 December 2017, Egco said that he has requested the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to subject him and Vicencio to polygraph tests and cyber forensics.