BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — Community journalist Nino Joseph Oconer and five other activists and development workers from the Cordillera and Ilocos regions appeared at the Baguio City Hall of Justice on February 20 to post bail for their temporary liberty.
Oconer’s companions in filing bail were Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) leaders Windel Bolinget and Stephen Tauli, peasant advocate Lourdes Gimenez, and development workers Sarah Abellon-Alikes and Florence Kang.
Oconer is the Ilocos correspondent of Northern Dispatch (Nordis). Gimenez is a secretariat member of farmer’s group Alyansa ti Pesante iti Taeng Kordilyera, Abellon-Alikes was a former Board of Director of Katinnulong Dagiti ti Umili ti Amianan, and Kang is the executive director of the Ilocos Center for Research, Empowerment and Development.
The Bangued Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Abra granted their bail motion on February 16.
“(C)onsidering the fact that they are similarly situated with the accused Jennifer Awingan, the same is hereby GRANTED,” said RTC Branch 2 Judge Corpus Alzate.
Police arrested Awingan, a research staff of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), on January 30. She posted bail on February 7, the same day the court ruled in favor of her bail plea.
An intelligence officer of the 24th IB implicated the six individuals in the New People’s Army (NPA) ambush in Barangay Gacab, Malibcong, Abra in October 2022. Two soldiers from the said army unit died in the clash and two others survived.
In a February 20 interview, Oconer said there is nothing new about members of the media being victims of the government’s weaponization of the law. He added that those in the mainstream and alternative media outfits have been fending off attacks for a long time.
“Hindi na bago ito sa Nordis at Altermidya. Meron talagang systematic attack sa media na umigting sa panahon ni Duterte at ngayon ay itinutuloy ng administrasyon ni Marcos, Jr,” he said.
(This is nothing new to Nordis and Altermidya. There is a systematic attack against the media that intensified during the term of Duterte and is being continued by the Marcos, Jr administration.)
“Gusto nilang busalan and media na magpahayag ng tunay na kalagayan ng mamamayan, at sabihn na mayroon talagang kainutilan ang gobyerno sa pagtugon,” Oconer said.
(They want to gag the media from telling the true situation of the people and the government’s shortcomings.)
He recognized that the case would limit his work “because of the added risk.”
“Alam naman natin na mapanganib ang maging mamamahayag sa Pilipinas at ang kasong ito ang isa sa mga nagpapatunay,” Oconer added.
(Being a journalist in the Philippines is risky and this case is proof.)
Despite the risk and burden, he considers the charge against him a “badge of honor,” saying that other activists and journalists have faced criminal cases intended to demean them.
“Ang problema, hindi ko pwedeng tanggapin ang karangalang iyon kasi hindi naman ako NPA,” he added.
(The problem is, I cannot accept the honor since I am not an NPA.)
Back to work
Meanwhile, Kang said fear for his safety lingers. He is also concerned about his family living abroad.
“Maliban kasi sa sarili ko, siempre mas malaking takot ko ay yung sa magulang ko na parehas ng matanda, may sakit at nasa ibang bansa. Lagi ako kinakabahan na baka mamaya ay atakehin sila dahil sa pag-aalala bagamat masaya ako na supportive sila sa akin,” he said.
(Aside for myself, I am also afraid for my parents who are both elderly, sick and abroad. While I am happy that they support me, I am concerned that they might suffer heart attack for worrying about me.)
Despite all this, he said he is determined to return to his work as he has been away from work for almost a month.
Kang said that attacks on development workers across the country have deprived services and aid for communities already reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising pricess of goods.
He thanked the judge for granting their bail motion, so they can have temporary liberty and continue their work as they face the charges against them. He expressed confidence that the rebellion case, which he described as a trumped-up case, would be dismissed.
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