Cabanatuan mayor, men allegedly harass TV crew

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – A cameraman and a driver-technician from a local television station in Cabanatuan City reported being harassed by the incumbent mayor last 27 April 2013.  The mayor has denied the allegation.

Cabanatuan City is in Nueva Ecija, a province approximately 114 kilometers north of Manila.

Brothers Erme and Eduard Buendia, cameraman and driver-technician of TV48, respectively, were taking video footage of incumbent Cabanatuan mayor and re-electionist Julius Caesar Vergara jogging along the Nueva Ecija-Aurora road in Barangay (village) San Isidro with about 10 men and a police car tailing him when the incident allegedly happened.

Erme told CMFR that Vergara and his men forced them out of the station’s vehicle and grabbed their bag, video camera and car keys. The bag and keys were later returned, but not the video camera.

The Buendias alleged that the police car accompanying the mayor blocked their way while they were being harassed. A report from identified the two officers inside the police car as PO1 Isaias Feliciano and PO1 Germino Gimenez of the Cabanatuan police station.

However, a report from the online news site VERA Files quoted two of Vergara’s aides, Ramon Rodriguez, chief of the Cabanatuan civilian security unit, and Froilan Tolentino as saying to the police that Vergara was on a house-to-house campaign in the area when they were alarmed by the presence of a black pickup which passed by them, turned around, and parked in a dimly lit portion of the road.

A police report cited by VERA Files said that when Rodriguez and Vergara’s other aides approached the vehicle, its passengers scampered off, leaving the driver alone. The police report also said that when Vergara’s aides felt no threat from the driver, they continued with their campaign sortie.

Eduard Buendia denied Rodriguez’s statement and said there were only two of them in the station vehicle. Erme added that Vergara and his men knew they were from TV48 because the station’s name is painted on the vehicle sides.

In an interview with CMFR, TV48 station manager Joseph Picart said that the station has already filed robbery charges against Vergara and his men. Vergara has yet to respond to the complaint, according to the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office.

CMFR called Vergara’s office but his secretary said he was unavailable.

TV48, on one hand, is reportedly owned by Anthony Umali, Vergara’s rival for the mayoralty position. On the other hand, Vergara’s family operates dwJJ 684 kHz, which also airs its programs on channel 16 on local TV. (An anchor of dwJJ, Julius Cauzo, was killed in November 2012.)