Cotabato pistol packing journalists PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 26 November 2010 13:22

COTABATO CITY -- Many journalists in this city and in Maguindanao --- now touted as most dangerous places for journalists --- are convinced arming themselves is a “first layer protection” neither the police nor local officials can readily provide them.

Their weapon of choice: a caliber .45 automatic, self-loading pistol, which is chambered for a very powerful bullet that can even be customized to become even more lethal. 

Members of two press groups in Cotabato City, the Kampilan Press Corps, whose members cover the areas under the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, and the Philippine National Police-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (PNP-ARMM) Press Club, have confirmed that the advocacy for arming of journalists by many of them is gaining headway, apparently after leaning a bitter lesson from the Nov. 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre.

“It’s not bad to arm ourselves. Possession of guns is a right and privilege of every qualified Filipino,” said Garry Fuerzas, correspondent here of the Bombo Radyo.

A correspondent of the Manila Bulletin, Ali Macabalang, director of ARMM’s Bureau of Public Information, said only a journalist who is prepared to fight it
out with a potential attacker that can easily detect any attempt on his life.

Gunmen riding a Tamaraw FX once parked at the front yard of Fuerzas in Midsayap, North Cotabato and opened fire with M-14 and M-16 assault rifles about five years ago. The police have not identified the attackers nor filed corresponding charges against them.

Macabalang, in 1995, was wounded in the neck when a pistol wielding suspect opened fire at his vehicle while he was on his way home in a residential area here. The attack left a colleague, Nash Maulana of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, also wounded.

John Unson, a reporter of the Philippine Star, also survived an attack by four men, each armed with handguns, on May 28, 2009. Investigators, among them officials of the now defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, have confirmed that the gunmen were hired by a drug lord apparently irked by Unson’s reports detailing his drug trafficking activities here.

Sr. Supt. Willie Dangane, the city’s police director, said the police can only provide journalists security if they report threats on their lives.

“Sometimes, because we have a different culture here, journalists that get death threats just remain silent because making noise can only agitate those that want them dead,” Dangane said.

Dangane and the Cotabato City Pistol and Rifle Association, a government-accredited group of local shooters who compete in shooting competitions in different parts of the country, have been providing journalists trainings on gun handling and marksmanship.

There is a long history of killings of journalists in Central Mindanao that precedes the Nov. 23, 2009 mass slaughter of 58 people, 32 of them journalists, in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao.

Couple George and Macel Vigo, both broadcasters, were gunned down by motorcycle-riding men in Kidapawan City on June 19, 2006 while on their way home from work.

It was Unson and Macabalang, both avid collectors of handguns and assault rifles, that first pioneered the advocacy for local journalists to arm themselves for protection.

Some members of the local media community that commemorated the first anniversary, through a tree planting activity last Tuesday at the ARMM compound here the infamous Maguindanao massacre, carried handguns in their bags.

“There are many good reasons for us to arm ourselves. One of them is the realization that we lack policemen to secure our communities. What is important is that we are disciplined owners of guns,” said DZRH correspondent Jonjie Dimacutac, himself armed with a caliber .45 pistol.

Nelson Roni, a reporter of radio station dxMY also based in Cotabato City and known here for his opposition to arming of journalists, was on his way home to Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, when a gunman shot him dead inside a passenger vehicle some eight years ago.

Malou Cadeliña-Manar, who used to work for Catholic station dxMS in Cotabato City here, hastily relocated with her family to Kidapawan City after suspected partisans attempted to kidnap her two daughters while in school.

Two masked men armed with handguns even intruded into their house and nearly raped her maid after they found out she was out on work.

There are also big groups that are often “collide head-on” with members here of the Fourth Estate. 

Suspected Moro extremists detonated in early 2000 a powerful improvised explosive device (IED) at the gate of the Catholic station dxMS here just as Datu Zamzamin Ampatuan, was alighting from his vehicle to enter the station’s guarded compound.

Ampatuan was hosting then a nightly radio program that was critical of the chairman then of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Egyptian-trained Ustadz Salamat Hashim.

Ampatuan survived an ambush months before, but his Army escort was not as lucky.

Many journalists here have since been keeping guns, mostly caliber .45 pistols.

By  Felix Ostrea