DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 18 September) – Journalist Froilan Gallardo of MindaNews is still part of the Philippine delegation to the BIMP-EAGA’s Budayaw Festival 2019 in Kuching, Malaysia in November, the representative of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) to the festival’s secretariat meeting in Sarawak, Malaysia last Tuesday, said.
Jimmy Musa, Development Management Officer of MinDA, told MindaNews Wednesday afternoon that “Mr. Gallardo is still in the delegation.”
“However, Malaysian government is asking for clearance of his identity as ‘red-tagged NPA (New People’s Army) supporter after they saw it over a media news (site),” Musa said, adding “we will just wait for Malaysia for their decision.”
“But Philippines has no problem with Gallardo joining the group,” Musa said.
“He is not out of the delegation. Merely clearance po na di talaga siya NPA supporter as per tagging sa kanya” (that he is not an NPA supporter as he is tagged to be), Musa said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Gallardo posted on his Facebook page that he lost his chance to join a photo exhibit with his peers in the East ASEAN Growth Area (EAGA) in Kuching, no thanks to his having been red-tagged.
Gallardo, who also writes for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Gold Star Daily and international news agencies, wrote that it pained him that he could not join his counterparts in the BIMP-EAGA in the November photo exhibit because “the Malaysian organizers rejected me because I was ‘red tagged’ as an NPA supporter.”
EAGA comprises Brunei Darussalam, East Indonesia, East Malaysia and Mindanao and Palawan in the Philippines. The photo exhibit’s theme is “Celebrating Cultural Diversity.”
“They probably resorted to google. Malaysia has strict security laws regarding terrorists and their sympathizers. So I can’t be in Kuching in November,” Gallardo wrote.
Abraham Ambo Garcia, Coordinator of the photo exhibition told MindaNews that the festival secretariat that met in Sarawak, Malaysia on Tuesday informed him that Malaysia was alarmed with what is happening in the Philippines citing Gallardo being red-tagged in news reports.
Garcia, an assistant professor of the Languages, Literature and Arts Department at the Ateneo de Davao University is from Davao City and is currently based in Australia for his PhD studies in the visual arts.
He told MindaNews that a similar security protocol was followed in 2017 when General Santos City hosted the Budayaw BIMP-EAGA Festival of Cultures where all foreign delegates were also screened.
Garcia said he explained the situation to the secretariat and even pointed to articles about colleagues and military officials vouching for Gallardo.
The Cagayan de Oro-based Gallardo had decried the red-tagging, reiterating his profession allows him access to people from all sectors in society.
Gallardo, who has won several journalism awards, is known to military and police officials assigned in Mindanao, among them Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal who was 4th Infantry Division commander in 2017 and Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who also previously served as 4th ID commander and former Armed Forces Chief of Staff, now Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez.
In his more than three decades as a journalist in Mindanao, Gallardo has covered various aspects of Mindanao, including its wars and peace processes.
In the 2000 all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), he embedded himself among the Philippine Marines from Lanao del Sur to Maguindanao. He covered the kidnappings in Sulu and Basilan, the arrival of the US military in Zamboanga, the 2003 and 2008 wars against the MILF, the mass evacuations, the Ampatuan Massacre in 2009, Zamboanga Siege in 2013, Mamasapano tragedy in 2015, Marawi Siege in 2017, Mindanao’s festivals, disasters including typhoons Sendong and Pablo in Mindanao and Yolanda in Leyte-Samar, mass actions, prayer rallies. He also covered events featuring Jorge Madlos of the National Democratic Front in Mindanao, the New People’s Army, Nur Misuari and the Moro National Liberation Front, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and the MILF, and covered as well peacebuilding efforts in various parts of Mindanao.
Gallardo was red-tagged last month along with Cong Corrales, associate editor of Mindanao Gold Star Daily, also from Cagayan de Oro City.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in a statement on August 28 demanded from authorities and security forces in Cagayan de Oro and Northern Mindanao to ensure the safety of Corrales, Gallardo and other journalists “who find themselves in danger because of red-tagging.”
Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno said he personally knows Gallardo and Corrales and has “no reason to believe at all that they should be subjected to any form or manner of demolition; neither do I doubt – even for a moment – their love of country and firm adherence to democratic principles.”
Brig. Gen. Edgardo de Leon, commander of the 403rd Infantry Brigade in Bukidnon, vouched for Gallardo and Corrales as professional journalists.
In a statement, de Leon said he personally knows the two journalists. “They are professional journalists. To me, Froi and Cong are not simply friends, but close personal friends whom I consider as brothers. I vouch for them that they are not reds and do not deserve to be ‘red-tagged.’ Whoever is doing this has the malicious intent to sow divide and break our friendly relationship.”
Interviewed in ‘Wag Po!’ over Cignal TV’s One PH in Manila on August 30, Gallardo said journalists are civilians and red-tagging journalists or making them appear that they are NPA supporters makes them target of state and non-state actors.
He said he may have been targeted to sow fear among the younger journalists. “Bakit ako? Sa mga bata ngayon, ako parang image nila. Tinitira si Froilan, kayo pa kaya?” (Why me? Among the younger ones, it’s like I am their image. Froilan is being attacked, all the more you are vulnerable).
Face covered by cap
The NUJP said anonymous red-tagging material against several personalities in Cagayan de Oro, similar to the earlier flyers and banners, were received from a courier service on August 28 by Iglesia Filipina Independiente priest Fr. Rolando Abejo and a city hall employee who had also been red tagged earlier.
The materials separately targeted Corrales and Gallardo. A P1 million bounty for the death of Corrales was even included in the crudely produced flyer from “Black Mamba,” purportedly of the “MAT-NMF Press Club Chapter.”
The materials received by Fr. Abejo targeted himself, human rights lawyer Beverly Musni and her lawyer-daughter Czarina for vilification. It also included a list of organizations and personalities supposedly linked to the rebels and named Gallardo there.
Lt. Col. Mardy Hortillosa, spokesperson of the Philippine National Police Regional Office in Cagayan de Oro told MindaNews on Wednesday that investigators have received a copy of the CCTV footage from the courier service in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental from where the red-tagging materials were sent, but the sender could not be identified as he was wearing a cap. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)