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By Francis Allan L. Angelo

ILOILO Vice Governor Rolex Suplico on Tuesday condemned the harassment of The Daily Guardian’s photojournalist at the multi-million peso mansion of Gov. Niel D. Tupas Sr. Friday last week.

In a privilege speech delivered during the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s regular session, Suplico said the caretakers of Tupas mocked Tara Yap’s rights under the 1987 Constitution after they forced her out of a taxi, snatched her personal belongings and detained her inside the mansion for more than 20 minutes.

The Daily Guardian dispatched Yap to verify reports that a new structure is being constructed inside the compound of Tupas’ mansion.

She was also instructed to take pictures of the compound to serve as visuals for a series of reports on the lifestyle of public officials.

Yap was about to leave the area when she did not see any activity inside the compound.

But caretakers under the employ of the Tupas household barred Yap’s taxi from leaving and ordered her to alight from the vehicle.

The caretakers also confiscated Yap’s personal belongings even if she identified herself as a member of the media.

They also ordered Yap to go inside Tupas’ mansion where she was held against her will for more than 20 minutes.

Suplico said Tupas’ caretakers are liable for the crime of kidnapping when they harassed and detained Yap.

The vice governor also likened the incident to areas where journalists are killed.

“What gets the gall is the fact that the victim was no other than a journalist. I thought that these can happen only in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq or some country where there is complete breakdown of peace and order. But this cannot happen here in peaceful and laidback Iloilo, the home of Graciano Lopez Jaena, the founder of the La Solidaridad. Our revolutionary hero from Jaro District must be turning over in his grave,” Suplico said.

Suplico also asked the Sanggunian to pass a resolution condemning Yap’s harassment at Tupas’ mansion.

The proposed resolution will be deliberated in the SP’s regular session next week.

Award-winning photojournalist Joe Torres Jr. said Tupas should discipline his employees for harassing Yap.

In his blog http://jotorres.wordpress.com, Torres said Yap’s harassment is a cause for alarm.

“It is alarming that a politician would resort to harassing a photojournalist, even detaining her against her will, confiscating her personal belongings and even suing her for doing her job,” Torres said.

Torres said the act of Tupas’ caretakers “was pure and simple harassment and a violation not only of Yap’s rights but of press freedom.”

“With the elections coming, politicians seemed to have this penchant of harassing media practitioners who are out to expose possible irregularities. Media groups like the National Press Club and the PCP should not stop by just condemning the incident. Appropriate charges should also be filed against the men of Tupas. To Governor Tupas, you should look into this incident and start disciplining your men and tell them to just keep off their hands from the media,” Torres said.

Torres is a Manila-based journalist and a two-time recipient of the Philippines’ National Book Award for Journalism for his books “Unholy Nation: Stories from a Gambling Republic” (2004) and “Into the Mountain: Hostaged by the Abu Sayyaf” (2002).

Joe was conferred the Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Fellowships for Professional Development by the Benigno Aquino Foundation and the US Embassy in Manila in 2005. He was also a fellow at the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993.

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines-Iloilo said the confiscation of Yap’s personal belongings was uncalled for as she already identified herself as a photojournalist.

“Even law enforcers cannot do this except with the necessary search warrants or when they have enough proof to investigate or apprehend a person,” the group said.

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