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BUTUAN CITY - Four Mindanao-based journalists and a newspaper publisher recently received death threats after they reported the alleged illegal logging operations in the region of an influential wood trader.
Goldstar Daily's editor-in-chief Herbie Gomez, correspondent Edwin Iyo, and publisher Ernesto Chiu received death threats through a text message after the newspaper published a banner story on the statement of Department of Interior and Local Government Jesse Robredo that he wanted charges filed against businessman Roger Edma.
Edma allegedly owned illegally cut logs that were moved to Butuan City from Barangay Cabanti-an, Magsaysay town, Misamis Oriental, Friday last week. He is said to be the brother of San Fernando, Bukidnon mayor Laurencia Edma.
Gomez received a text message which said, “Apil apil ka Herbie sa tarantado nimo nga tao ninyo sa Gingoog. I apil ka namo ibahog ka namo kang Lolong. Nagtuo ka na d mi kakuha inyo number tanan. I apil pa namo si Mr. Chu. Otrohon namo inyo bday. Taga Cabantian ni."
[You are just like your stupid correspondent in Gingoog City. You think we cannot get all you numbers. We will feed all of you to Lolong including Mr. Chu. We will kill all of you. This is someone from Cabantian.]
The message came from mobile number 0933-535-2774.
Gomez replied to the message and said, "I haven't seen 'Lolong' yet and I'm looking forward to seeing this crocodile--and feeding it if its captors would allow it. If and when the time comes, I will make sure that the enemy of the environment, not a journalist, would end up as its meal."
Also, Radio Mindanao Network broadcasters Sassie Babar and Gerry Campos received death threats via text messages that came from the same cellphone number. “Get your coffins ready, this is from Cabantian. If you intervene with Edma, your birthday will really change.”
The other message read, “Mr. Campos, you are so evident in the tip of my Caliber 45. I will change your birthday.”
Babar and Campos, radio anchors of the program, “Straight to the Point,” have often commented on the issue of continuous illegal logging in the Caraga Region despite an ongoing log ban.
“We have not stopped talking about the logging issue until now. It is because here in Caraga Region, once illegal logging is the hot issue, it suddenly disappears. Since we have started talking about this, we will not stop until we finish it,” said Babar.
Edma denied that his camp was behind the death threats against the journalists. “We will resolve that, there are so many accusations. It is not like I’m the only logger here,” he said in a phone patch interview with a local television station.
National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) Cagayan de Oro chapter chairperson Cong B. Corrales condemned the death threats.
“We reiterate our role in reporting issues, which are inimical to public interest. Especially, after the Sendong tragedy last year, it is imperative for journalists to cover issues regarding the environment. We will not be cowed but instead we will further our resolve to cover environmental issues even deeper,” said Corrales.
Also, the NUJP Butuan City-Agusan del Norte Chapter saud that, “The threat is a clear attack to press freedom."
"We condemn the personalities behind this atrocious and evil plan and decry this move as a means to undermine the freedom of the press by sending a message not only to the two journalists but to their colleagues in the industry to cower in fear,” said Rodge Cultura, TV-host and former president of the NUJP chapter in the area.
Cutura also received a death threat in November 2011, after he reported about Edma's alleged illegal logging operations and the logging problem in Butuan City, which was worsened by the Deparment of Environment and Natural Resources' inadequate number of personnel to address the issue.
The NUJP is challenging Robredo to fulfill his promise of going after the people behind the illegal logging syndicates in the region.