Mindanao journalists threatened over illegal logging story

CMFR/Philippines – Four journalists and a newspaper publisher from the cities of Butuan and Cagayan de Oro were threatened for their story on illegal logging industry in Mindanao.

Edwin Iyo, a correspondent of the Cagayan de Oro City-based Gold Star Daily, alleged that businessman Roger Edma threatened to kill him last 17 June 2012 over an article about the proposed filing of charges against him by the Department of Interior and Local Government.  Edma allegedly even challenged Iyo to publish the death threat in his newspaper. Iyo reported the incident to the police.

Iyo and Ben Serrano, Gold Star Daily correspondent in Butuan City, reported in a 15 June 2012 article that DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo had ordered the filing of charges against Edma for allegedly using an “illegal” certificate from the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) in transporting lumbers to Butuan City from Cabanti-an village, Magsaysay town in Misamis Oriental. (“Robredo: Probe CENRO in Gingoog”).

In an interview with the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) last 21 June 2012, Iyo claimed that Edma continued sending threatening and insulting text messages to him after the 17 June 2012 incident.

Iyo’s editor Herbie Gomez also received a threatening text message following the 17 June 2012 confrontation between Iyo and Edma.

On the morning of 19 June 2012, Gomez received a text message from mobile number +63-933-535-2774 which read: “Apil apil ka Herbie sa tarantado nimo nga tao ninyo sa Gingoog. I apil ka namo ibahog ka namo kang Lolong. Nagtuo ka nga d mi kakuha inyo number tanan. I apil pa namo si Mr. Chu. Otrohon namo inyo bday. Taga Cabantian ni (You, Herbie, are like your stupid correspondent in Gingoog. We will feed you all to ‘Lolong’. You think we cannot get all your numbers? We are going to include Mr. Chu. We will change your birthdays. We are from Cabanti-an village).”

Chu refers to Ernesto Chu, publisher of Gold Star Daily. “Lolong” refers to a 20.3-foot crocodile caught in the province of Agusan del Sur on September 2011. Lolong, believed to be the largest crocodile in captivity in the Philippines, is suspected of eating a male farmer and a water buffalo in the area.

The same mobile number (+63-933-535-2774) was used to send death threats to Butuan City broadcasters Sassie Babar and Gerry Campos. Babar and Campos anchor the Radio Mindanao Network program “Straight to the Point” which tackles local issues including illegal logging, among others.

Babar and Campos both received a text message which read “Andam na sa inyo lungon duha taga cabantian ni hilabtan ninyo si edma maotro gyud inyo birthday (Prepare your coffins, this is from Cabantian. If you try to intervene with Edma, your birthday will really change).”

Babar said that Edma’s name was mentioned in some of their stories about illegal logging. Both Babar and Campos said the threat will not stop them from reporting on illegal logging in their province.

Babar and Campos told CMFR that they reported the text messages to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG). Meanwhile, Gomez said that they are not taking the threats lightly and that their office will decide if they are going to need a security detail from the police.

Other Mindanao journalists have been threatened with harm and even death for reporting on illegal logging. Last 25 November 2011, Rodge Cultura, field reporter of ABS-CBN, told CMFR that he had been warned that a gunman had been hired to kill him. Last 23 November 2011, Cultura reported to the police that he was being followed. Cultura has been reporting on illegal logging in Butuan City which is allegedly a major transit point for illegally-cut timber. The reporter said his stories called the attention of local authorities to the illegal activities of the big player in illegal logging who is connected with government officials.