Media and journalism issues

Journalists file complaint vs 9 cops in Leyte

Jazmin Bonifacio

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Journalists file complaint vs 9 cops in Leyte
The journalists also urge the Presidential Task Force on Media Security ‘to ensure that the wheels of justice starts turning far faster with no biases’ after it issued a statement concluding that police were not the ones who fired shots during the incident

TACLOBAN, Philippines – Three local journalists have filed a complaint against nine cops who harassed and threatened them while they were working on a land dispute story in Pastrana town, Leyte.

Noel Sianosa, Lito Bagunas, and Ted Tomas – all reporters of Radyo Abante-San Juanico TV – went to the Office of the Ombudsman on Friday, July 21, and filed a complaint of abuse of authority, grave misconduct, and slight physical Injuries against Police Staff Sergeant Rhea Mae Baleos of the Santa Fe police station, and Staff Sergeant Ver Baleos and seven other unidentified members of the Pastrana police station.

In their complaint, the three journalists narrated the incident on July 14, while they were interviewing an agrarian reform beneficiary in Barangay Jones in Pastrana town, as earlier reported.

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Sianosa alleged that Rhea Baleos assaulted him, enough to cause him to almost fall into a rice paddy. It was at that point that, the reporters said, that they heard four gunshots and when they checked, they saw the responding members of the Pastrana police already in firing position.

They said they found out only after the incident that the team leader of the responding Pastrana police was Ver Baleos, the husband of Rhea Baleos.

The journalists said the incident had caused them great mental anguish and that they also feared for their safety and that of their families.

Presidential Taskforce on Media Security ‘failed us’

Radyo Abante-SJTV manager Fred Padernos expressed disappointment with the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS), which made its own conclusion on the incident ahead of the official police investigation.

The PTFoMS claimed in a Facebook post on Friday that the gunshots were not fired by police which, Padernos said, “is something questionable and disappointing to the victims.”

“PTFoMS has failed us. Iba ang tono, at lihis sa napagusapan at takbo ng istorya (The tone is different, and diverts from what was discussed and the unfolding of the story itself),” Padernos told Rappler in an interview.

“The treatment of PTFoMS was not conducive for us.  It was a bad treatment considering that they came up with a news release/press statement prior conclusion of the PNP’s investigation. Nagsagawa ba kayo ng pagsusuri sa mga baril ng mga (Did you conduct a test on the guns of the) responding police officers?”  he added.

Padernos said they initially felt safe and secure when the PTFoMS representatives called them and met with them, only to feel the opposite – “heartbroken, not sure of our safety” – the following day.

“After the PTFoMS news release yesterday we were confused whether they (PTFoMS) were news writers, negotiators or investigators, with their lines saying it (our account of the story) was ‘fake news,'” he said.

In the PTFoMS statement on Friday, Gutierrez said, “The country’s media climate cannot improve if there are some among us who, instead of promoting understanding and harmony would rather propagate fake news, sow division, and disunity between the members of the press and the authorities for their own ulterior motive.”

To this, Padernos said, “If PToMS wants to demonstrate that it is committed to truth and justice, it needs to ensure that the wheels of justice starts turning far faster with no biases.”

Sianosa, meanwhile, categorically denied the claim of PTFoMS that he was willing to drop his complaint, and that he was being pressured by someone from his station not to drop the complaint.

“Bagkos mas lalong lumakas at naging buo ang desisyon ng buong Radyo Abante-SJTV na isampa ang reklamo sa Ombudsman,” Sianosa said. (The entire Radyo Abante-SJTV is fully committed to file the complaint before the Ombudsman.)

PTFoMS probe

In a press statement posted on its Facebook page on friday, the PTFoMS said that its “own probe had established that the bursts of gunfire heard during a commotion last July 14, 2023 in Pastrana, Leyte, involving 3 local members of the press did not come from the local police.”

“Indeed, gunshots were fired but it did not come from the local police nor was the local members of the press targeted by the police contrary to initial reports of the incident by some quarters,” said PTFoMS Executive Director Paul Gutierrez.

Gutierrez did not explain how the task force came to this conclusion, which is contrary to the account of the journalists who were at the scene. He had sent his chief of staff Jyro Go, and PTFoMS head executive assistant Venet Andal to meet with Philippine National Police officials, the cops involved, and the journalists in Leyte on Thursday.

According to the PTFoMS statement, Go reported to Gutierrez that the person who fired the gun during the incident “is now the subject of a manhunt operation by the local police.” He also said that Rhea Baleos was willing to settle with the journalists.

“The police is also set to file a case for illegal discharge of firearm against the suspect whose name is being withheld for the time being,” the task force added.

The Internal Affairs Service (IAS) of Police Regional Office 8 (PRO-8) was tasked to conduct an investigation on top of the investigation ordered by the Leyte Provincial Police Office.

Eastern Visayas police chief Brigadier General Vincent Calanoga had earlier ordered the relief of Ver and Rhea Baleos of their posts.

The PTFoMS said that based on their investigation, Rhea Baleos lost her temper when Sianosa continued to record the verbal altercation between the lady cop and Anecita Nogal, the owner of a ricefield plot that had been mortgaged to Rhea Baleos by a certain Moises Empillo in 2017. At the of their transaction, Empillo did not disclose to Rhea Baleos that the property is titled to Nogal. –

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