On March 16, Damasco received a text message that read: “Ka Damasco, mula ng kayong tatlo ay naging spokesman ng NPA, matagumpay kayong nanalo sa propaganda laban sa AFP, dahil dyan may reward kayong tatlo.” The text message came from sender 0905-507-5929.
The text message came while Damasco was 15 minutes towards the end of his daily program Tinuod nga Balita (The Real News). Upon receiving the message, Damasco said he made a commentary explaining that he, as a journalist, was not favoring anyone in his coverage nor does he play the role of the NPA’s spokesperson.
Upon saying this, however, another text message from the same sender arrived. It read: “Matapang ka ha…(So you’re really tough).”
Damasco believes that the military was behind the death threat.
Damasco has been covering reports on alleged abuses by the military against civilians in the region of Southern Mindanao. Three weeks prior to his receipt of the threatening text message, Damasco was in Paquibato, a district in the city, to check on reports of residents allegedly beaten by soldiers. He interviewed a village official who told him how a military officer beat up residents in the area. Damasco’s reports about the beatings prompted an investigation by the City Council.
On March 1, Damasco went up to Paquibato again to do a follow-up report, where, on his way back to Davao the next day, the victims asked if they can hitch a ride in the RMN vehicle that he was using, fearing that they might not make it in time for the City Council probe that day.
But on their way, soldiers stopped their vehicle in one village in Paquibato and asked the people inside to present their cedula (community tax certificate) for inspection. Soldiers said they only honor cedulas with the initials of a military officer at the back.
Shocked at the military’s treatment of civilians, Damasco told everyone in the vehicle that they had the option not to bring out their cedulas. This angered the officer manning the checkpoint, causing a heated argument that Damasco put live on the air.
On March 23, Damasco received another text message again that read: “"Hirap sa inyo masyado kayong pakialamero. mahilig kayong magtapang-tapangan, mabuti naisip mong manahimik kung hindi habang buhay kang manahimik. masayado kayong nagpapagamit sa kabila. mag-isip ka!"
Damasco also reported the story of Benedictine nun, Sister Stella Matutina, and three other anti-mining advocates who were rounded up and detained for eight hours by soldiers at the village hall of Barangay Taytayan in Baganga town, Davao Oriental. The military had denied Sr. Matutina’s claim and three others but Damasco's investigation into the matter proved otherwise.
He was also one of the journalists who interviewed NPA leader Commander Parago on the gruesome murder of his daughter, Rebelyn Pitao.
In that interview, Parago named suspects in the killi
ng of his daughter and that reportage prompted the military to “restrict” some of their personnel to the barracks, pending investigation.
We express concern on the life and safety of our colleague. Already, suspicious-looking men were recently seen in Damasco’s neighborhood. Neighbors said the men were asking about him and RMN-DXDC Davao station manager Mario Maximo “Dodong” Solis who happens to live nearby.
Weeks, prior to this, RMN was able to record an interview with a military officer, a certain Captain Esnani Mai of the 67th Infantry Battalion based in Davao Oriental.
Mai, in that interview, tagged RMN-DXDC Davao as “a favorite of the communists.” RMN was able to make a recording of such statement and we are also submitting it to you.
We are alarmed by what has befallen our colleague. We see this as an incident that is meant to intimidate Damasco and all other journalists who have the dedication and the courage to brave the dangerous route of Southern Mindanao to get the real score on the seeming disregard of human rights in these places.
It is just sad that in a violent environment where people turn to the media to air their grievances, journalists become targets of attacks.
We express our concern that such incidents might lead to the deterioration of press freedom here, a situation that augurs ill for the ongoing efforts in finding out the truth about grave human rights violations occurring in the city, such as the summary executions of persons suspected to be involved in criminality and the extrajudicial killings of activists and civilians in communities where counter-insurgency measures of the government are being undertaken.
We do not need assurances of police and military escorts to appease us but actions by the government that will send a message that press freedom is respected and being observed, and that as a way of deterring incidents that will cause harm on journalists, the cases of murders of our colleagues will be given solution. By this, we mean, convictions of the perpetrators and masterminds must be obtained.
We regret to tell you however, that a lot of cases of harassments of journalists in the region have yet to be solved. Among these are the following:
*Harassment of Radyo Natin-Compostela Valley broadcaster Roel Sembrano
*Murder of DXGO-Davao broadcaster Fernando “Batman” Lintuan
*Murder of Radyop Ukay-Digos City broadcaster Racman Pace
*Murder of former RMN-Davao broadcaster Dennis Cuesta
*Harassment of RPN-Davao broadcaster Erin Lumosbog
*Attack on Radyo Ukay-Digos City broadcaster Ronaldo Doong
We believe that an attack on a member of the media in the course of the performance of his duties is an affront to press freedom and a clear desecration of the constitutionally enshrined right to information.
We trust that with the commitment you have shown in dealing with the human rights situation in the country, we can count on you for succour.
Jeffrey M. Tupas
NUJP-Davao Secretary General