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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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By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE photojournalist of The Daily Guardian is mulling criminal raps against the household of Iloilo Gov. Niel D. Tupas Sr. for detaining her and confiscating her personal belongings Friday afternoon.

Tara Yap said she was detained for more than 20 minutes inside the luxurious compound of Tupas in MV Hechanova, Jaro, Iloilo City.

Yap was on assignment to verify reports that another structure was being constructed inside the compound.

She was also instructed to take pictures of the mansion and new structure as part of the investigative report on lifestyles of public officials.

Yap took a taxi to the Tupas mansion bringing along her camera and personal items.

When they were some 150 feet away from the gate of the Tupas mansion, Yap said she did not notice any activity, thus she decided to leave.

She told the driver to go back and leave but a long-haired man dashed towards the taxi. The man knocked on the taxi’s window, opened the door on the right passenger’s side and ordered the driver not to leave.

Yap said she identified herself as member of The Daily Guardian by showing her ID card.

Then another man came over the taxi and ordered Yap to hand over her digital camera (Canon 350D) which she laid on the taxi seat.

The long-haired person who first accosted Yap then grabbed and searched her bag. Both men accused Yap of taking videos of the Tupas mansion.

Yap told the two men that she did not take any video or photograph and even showed the files in her camera to prove her point.

Yap said the long-haired man made a call in his cellphone and later gave his cellphone to Yap saying that Nielette “Tweety” Tupas-Balleza wanted to talk her.

Yap said Balleza, the only daughter of Gov. Tupas, accused her as the person who took videos and photographs of government-owned heavy equipment seen working in the governor’s house in Banate town.

But Yap repeatedly denied Balleza’s accusation.

After her conversation with Balleza, the long-haired man seized Yap’s two cellphones, Blackberry 8700 and Nokia 3310, and told her to go inside the governor’s mansion.

Yap stayed inside the compound where she noticed several men working on a new structure right beside the Tupas mansion.

Yap was later released after talking to Atty. Joenar Pueblo of the Provincial Legal office over the cell phone.

Yap said Pueblo acknowledged that her presence there was part of her work as a journalist.

“Atty. Pueblo told me to tell the men who accosted me that I was just doing my job as a media practitioner,” Yap said.

The two men later returned Yap’s belongings and released her from detention.

But she was later surprised when she learned that a certain Rey Balleza De Ramas, 33, a caretaker at the Tupas mansion, went to the Jaro PNP station and reported her presence at the mansion.

De Ramas alleged in the blotter report that Yap committed unjust vexation and violated Tupas’ privacy by taking pictures of the mansion sans their permission.

Yap said the incident caused in her fear, anxiety, prejudice, and violation of her human rights, reason why she is mulling criminal raps against Tupas and his caretaker.

As regards the Banate video and photographs, these were handed to The Daily Guardian by a source who took the said materials several months ago.

Yap went to Banate last month to verify the existence of Tupas’ house in Banate. She only took pictures of the finished house but these were never published.

Yap said her Canon digital camera can only take still photographs and has no capability to take videos.

SPY

The Tupas camp accused Yap of being a spy for another politician.

“I was illegally detained.  I did not commit any crime,” Yap said

Yap said she never resisted the orders of Tupas’ male caretakers. She said she could have been physically hurt if she resisted.

The Tupas camp alleged that Yap is a spy and in the payroll of 4th district Rep. Ferjenel Biron.

“I was never paid and I am not a spy.  Besides, a journalist cannot masquerade as a spy. I have an integrity to maintain,” she added.

Yap is also a correspondent of Manila Bulletin and international news wire service Agence France-Presse (AFP).

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

WHAT’S wrong with taking photographs of a public official’s property?

A legal luminary and former president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines said Tara Yap, photojournalist of The Daily Guardian, did not violate any law when she went near  the mansion of Iloilo Gov. Niel D. Tupas Sr. in MV Hechanova, Jaro, Iloilo City.

Atty. Hans Sayno said Yap did not violate Tupas’ privacy as she was outside the governor’s multimillion peso mansion while working on an investigative report assignment.

The Daily Guardian assigned Yap to check reports that a new structure was being constructed beside Tupas’ mansion. The building is believed to be the house of Nielette “Tweety” Tupas-Balleza, the governor’s only daughter, who works as an executive assistant at the Office of the Governor.

Sayno said the Constitution guarantees the people’s right to information, particularly the conduct and lifestyle of public officials and employees such as Gov. Tupas and Tupas-Balleza.

Sayno said if Yap took pictures of the Tupas residence outside its gates, “I don’t think she violated the privacy of the household.”

“Taking pictures of a house is just like looking at the building. In the case of a camera, the image is registered in the memory chip of the instrument. There is nothing wrong if you take pictures of a house, especially that of a public official,” Sayno said over Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo.

Sayno said the extent of the right to privacy of a public official is less compared to a private individual.

“The penumbra of a public official’s right to privacy is lower than that of a private person. Public officials should expect public scrutiny of their lifestyle and conduct. In the case of Tara Yap, she is a media practitioner and the Constitution guarantees her right to expression and press freedom,” Sayno said.

Sayno said Yap could have intruded the governor’s privacy if she went inside parts of the house which are normally not considered public.

“If Ms. Yap went to the bathroom of Gov. Tupas’ house and took pictures of his toothbrush and how he brushes his teeth, there might have been invasion of property. But if she was situated outside the house, she did not intrude the privacy of the house,” he added.

Atty. Dennis Ventilacion, legal counsel of The Daily Guardian, said Yap was working as a journalist when she went to the vicinity of Tupas’ mansion.

Ventilacion said public officials are subject to scrutiny, particularly their lifestyle, and must allow the public to look into their wealth as mandated by Republic Act No. 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).

RA 6713 also mandates that “public officials and employees and their families shall lead modest lives appropriate to their positions and income. They shall not indulge in extravagant or ostentatious display of wealth in any form.”

Ventilacion said the acts of Tupas’ caretakers to grab Yap’s belongings and bring her inside the mansion against her will can be considered theft and illegal detention.

“If you restrain a person in a certain area against her will, that is illegal detention. If you grab her personal things without her permission, that is theft,” said Ventilacion who is a member of the IBP board of directors.

In the Philippines, witnesses to journalist murders face extreme pressures and risk

New York, August 19, 2009—Journalist murders continue to go unpunished in the Philippines in large part because of witness intimidation, the Committee to Protect Journalists says in a new report. The government’s witness protection program, while valuable, is underfunded and beset by numerous shortcomings, CPJ’s Shawn W. Crispin writes.

 CPJ’s report, “Under Oath, Under Threat,” spotlights the 2008 murder of radio broadcaster Denis Cuesta, who was shot while walking with colleague Robert Flores along a main road in General Santos City on the island of Mindanao . Flores came forward to identify a senior police official as one of the assassins—despite threats against him and his family. He and his family now live in a safe house with little money or freedom as the delay-plagued case slowly proceeds to trial. “I have sacrificed my family, my job, everything for justice,” the 49-year-old Flores told CPJ. “When the case is over, we will have to start a new life somewhere else.”

 The  Philippines is sixth on CPJ’s 2009 Impunity Index, which ranks countries worldwide in which journalists are regularly slain and their murders go unsolved. According to CPJ research, at least 24 journalist murders have gone unsolved in the Philippines over the last decade. CPJ has also documented numerous instances in which witnesses have been threatened, assaulted, or bribed. In one of the most shocking cases—the 2002 murder of radio journalist Edgar Damalerio—two witnesses were killed before they could testify, and a third survived an assassination attempt.

 Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative, traveled to General Santos City and Manila in July to research this report.

 Click URL for full story: http://cpj.org/ reports/2009/ 08/philippines- impunity- under-oath- under-threat. php

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