NUJP-Cotabato formed

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/13 Sept) – Philippine Star correspondent for central Mindanao John Felix Unson was elected as chapter chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in Cotabato City.

Unson, also reporter of the Catholic-ran The Mindanao Cross based in Cotabato City, has been the interim chapter chair of the NUJP since 2009. The chapter was formally organized after a general assembly meeting held on Saturday at ChingLa Restaurant in Cotabato City.

Charlie Senase, correspondent of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), is vice-chairperson; Manila Bulletin reporter Ali Macabalang is secretary-general; GMA7 stringer for Central Mindanao and MindaNews correspondent Ferdinandh Cabrera is treasurer; and Marychill Faunillan-Hawtay of the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation (NDBC) is the chapter’s auditor.

The chapter also organized several committees tasked to look after journalists’ safety and welfare, and education and training.

The new set of officers, including members of the chapter, took their oath before NUJP National Director Sonny Fernandez.

Fernandez told colleagues that the NUJP is taking the cudgel to advance journalists’ safety and welfare, especially so that the attack on media has not stopped after a change in the administration.

NUJP chair Nestor Burgos Jr., who was not present during last Saturday’s event due to previous commitment, conveyed his best regards on the chapter’s first general assembly.

Burgos, in a statement, said that the stronger the chapter has become in defending and advancing the interests and welfare of the Filipino media workers, so does the entire NUJP.

The NUJP, with more than 60 chapters nationwide, is now considered the foremost organization of media workers in the Philippines. The chapter in Cotabato City is the latest addition.

“We continue to be among those in the forefront of campaigns and advocacies on various issues affecting the Philippine media including killings and attacks on journalists, access to information and transparency and Press Freedom,” said Burgos.

Fernandez said the NUJP chapter in Cotabato City needs training on safety.

“With its location and the risks faced by journalists in this part of the region, it is just but timely they undergo safety training,” he stressed.

Unson, Macabalang and other journalists in Cotabato City have survived attacks in the past.

In order to raise awareness and capacity of journalists and news organizations on safety, Burgos told colleagues that the safety offices in Manila and in Cagayan de Oro City have continued to pursue programs and activities so as to respond to threats and attacks on them.

Cotabato is about eight hours by land travel south of Cagayan de Oro City where the NUJP safety office is located.

But even as the NUJP has significantly grown in numbers and strength in the past few years, the challenges facing the NUJP and the Filipino Press remain daunting, according to Burgos.

“We continue to seek justice for all slain journalists since 1986. But among our biggest challenge is finding justice for all victims of the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre,” he said in a statement.

Unson said that aside from embracing the ideals of the NUJP, he also wants the group to become catalyst for Muslim-Christian solidarity and be of help in pushing forward the Mindanao peace process.

The Saturday’s event, according to Macabalang, was a new dawn for efforts to unify Cotabato journalists fragmented or traumatized by the 2009 massacre.

“Realizing the bright prospect is challenge amidst structured influences of squabbling political leaders over individual journalists. Closer and frequent coordination of members must be a priority agenda alongside thrust to save the chapter from entry of media scalawags,” he said. (Malu Cadeliña Manar / MindaNews)