CDO, Butuan journalists receive death threats after illegal logging story

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/20 June) – Two editorial staff and a publisher of a local daily newspaper here and two broadcasters in Butuan City received death threats after bringing out a story on illegal logging in Northern Mindanao and in the Caraga Region.

A text message to RMN host Sassie Babar partially reads "You two prepare your coffins." Butuan broadcasters Babar and Gerry Campos, as well as Gold Star editor-in-chief Herby Gomez of Cagayan de Oro and Gold Star Gingoog correspondent Edwin Iyo, received the treats coming from the same mobile number last Tuesday (19 June 2012) morning. (MindaNews photo by Erwin Mascari–as)Last Tuesday morning, Mindanao Gold Star Daily editor-in-chief Herbie Gomez received a text message from mobile number 0933-5352774. Also threatened in the text message is the paper’s Gingoog City correspondent Edwin Iyo and publisher Ernesto “Toto” Chu.

“Apil apil ka Herbie sa tarantado nimo nga tao ninyo sa Gingoog. I apil ka namo ibahog ka namo kang Lolong. Nagtuo ka na d mi kakuha inyo number tanan. I apil pa namo si Mr. Chu. Otrohon namo inyo bday. Taga Cabantian ni,” the text message reads. (Translation: “You, Herbie, are just like your panicky man in Gingoog. We will feed you, too, to Lolong [referring to the big crocodile found and being held captive in Agusan del Sur]. You believe we can’t get all your numbers. We will also include Mr. Chu. We will change your birthdays. We are from Cabantian.”)

The threat came after the paper published a banner story entitled “Robredo: Probe CENRO in Gingoog” on June 15. The article discussed Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo’s order to file appropriate charges against businessman Roger Edma, who allegedly moved the questionable lumber to Butuan City from Barangay Cabanti-an, Magsaysay town in Misamis Oriental last June 15.

The article quoted local officials of Butuan City as saying that some 10,067.5 board feet of hot logs seized in Butuan City last June 2 belonged to Edma.

In the same banner story, Robredo ordered the investigation and suspension of several officials of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of Gingoog City after reports of illegally-cut logs being transported to Butuan City from Agusan del Sur though the Agusan River.

Gomez said that their Gingoog City correspondent, Edwin Iyo, told him that he has been receiving “similarly-worded death threats” after the Robredo story came out.

In Butuan City, Radio Mindanao Network broadcasters Sassie Babar and Gerry Campos also received death threats through text messages. The messages read, “Get your coffins ready, this is from Cabantian. If you intervene with Edma, your birthday will really change.”

RMN radio host Sassie Babar (right) talk to ABS-CBN Butuan reporter Rodge Cultura about the death threats. Babar received a text message Tuesday (19 June 2012) morning threatening her and a fellow radio host Gerry Campos. Cultura also has a threat way back in November 2011 all related to the logging situation in Caraga region and Butuan.  Mindanews Photo by Erwin MascariñasThe other text said, “Mr. Campos, you are so evident in the tip of my caliber .45. I will change your birthday.” The message came from the same mobile phone number used in texting the threat to Gold Star’s Gomez.

Babar and Campos are radio anchors of the program “Straight to the Point.” Both tackled illegal logging issues in Caraga.

Babar vowed not to stop discussing illegal logging on air, noting that in Caraga, logging may grab the limelight over radio, but immediately fizzles out. “Since we have started talking about this, we will not stop until we finish it,” he stressed.

In a local television phone interview, Edma, a local logger, said the death threats did not come from him nor from any of his subordinates. He said there have been a lot of accusations against him, and stressed that he is not the only logger in the area.

In an emailed reply, Gomez said that although he is not taking the threat lightly, he remains unfazed and vowed to continue publishing illegal logging issues in the region.

“I haven’t seen ‘Lolong’ yet and I’m looking forward to seeing this crocodile – and feeding it if its captors would allow. If and when the time comes, I will make sure that the enemy of the environment, not a journalist, would end up as its meal,” said Gomez.

The Cagayan de Oro chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the death threats, saying “journalists should not be figured in the cross-hairs of the illegal loggers as they are only doing their job.”

“We reiterate our role in reporting issues, which are inimical to public interest. Especially after the Sendong tragedy last year, it is imperative for journalists to cover issues regarding the environment. We will not be cowed but instead we will further our resolve to cover environmental issues even deeper,” its 15 statement said.

The NUJP chapter in Butuan and Agusan del Norte likewise issued its own statement, saying the threats against the media. “We condemn the personalities behind this atrocious and evil plan and decry this move as a means to undermine the freedom of the press,” the group said. (Cong B. Corrales and Erwin Mascariñas / MindaNews)