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Ces Drilon is a veteran broadcast journalist who has been at the center of many an unfolding news story, often under perilous circumstances. She was first on the scene during the failed putsch and siege of the Manila Peninsula in November of last year. No stranger to danger, she has done many features on Mindanao, and seemed particularly at home in the Sulu and Basilan areas, where she covered numerous newsworthy events for ABS-CBN.
She is now in the unenviable position of being in the news herself. Yesterday, rumors had been circulating that Ms. Drilon and two of her cameramen, Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderrama, were seized by Abu Sayyaf militants in the village of Kulasi in the town of Maimbung, Sulu. She was with Octavio Dinampo, a professor from the Mindanao State University, who was helping Ms. Drilon in her coverage. They were reportedly taken to the hinterlands of Indanan town.
This was later confirmed by Supt. Julasirim Kiram, the Sulu provincial police chief in an interview with the Mindanao Examiner.
“We received reports that the four were abducted by the Abu Sayyaf led by Albader Parad,” Kasim told the Mindanao Examiner.
“There is no demand yet for ransom,” Kasim said, adding, Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan convened the Crisis Management Committee to address the situation.
“Governor Sakur Tan is very worried over the safety of the victims and we are doing everything to locate them,” Kasim said.
ABS-CBN subsequently issued an official statement on the kidnapping.
That someone as notable and respected as Ms. Drilon would be abducted underscores the danger being a journalist in the Philippines. It’s a well-known fact that the Philippines is one of the most hazardous places to practice this sometimes deadly profession. The country has the shameful distinction of having the fifth-highest number of journalists murdered (beating out war zones like Afghanistan), based on the 1992-2008 figures of the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists, which likewise condemned the Drilon kidnapping.
Others would say that the Philippines would rank much higher if we count only the data for the years that President Gloria Arroyo had been in office. Journalists face threats not only from criminal elements like the Abu Sayyaf, but also from government institutions. Media and human rights groups, with good reason, have accused the Arroyo administration of adopting a policy of suppressing and harassing the press. Multiple libel suits are the least of Filipino media practitioners’ problems. More worrisome is the series of unabated murders of journalists all over the country, many remaining unsolved or the perpetrators unpunished. No less then Chief Justice Reynato Puno decried this “censorship by killing” and the continued hounding of democracy advocates, especially journalists.
Like the others, Ces Drilon was simply doing her job of keeping us informed about events that, directly or indirectly, impact our lives . Being kidnapped is a high price to pay for looking after the public interest.
This latest outrage brings to mind the fate of Daniel Pearl, a prominent Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and brutally murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in early 2002.
Kal Raustiala, director of UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations observed:
Daniel Pearl’s story and his tragedy are unfortunately not unusual. Journalists are in danger all over the world, yet it is journalists who give us the critical facts and context we need to understand events as they unfold.
We easily forget–or don’t think about until tragedy strikes–the thousands of workaday journalists around the world who maintain the daily information flows on which our governments, businesses and free societies depend in order to survive and prosper.
Just think of a world without the news thousands of journalists provide. Every time a journalist is killed, another window to the light is slammed shut.
Most of them were not international war correspondents as one might expect, but ordinary reporters and editors in their own countries, trying to shine the light of exposure on the dark recesses of crime and corruption.
Thus, the safety of all journalists is our collective concern. Without them, our democracy risks being reduced, in the words of Chief Justice Puno, to the “sovereignty of the deaf and the dumb”.
We join the entire nation in calling for the immediate safe release of Ms. Drilon and her companions and pray for them and their families.
The Mindanao People’s Caucus condemns the abduction of its chair, peace advocate Prof. Octavio Dinampo, who was kidnapped with Ces Drilon of ABS-CBN and her crew. According to the MPC statement:
Prof. Octavio is a credible and well-respected leader from Sulu and a leading peace advocate in Mindanao. He has been in the forefront of peace advocacy, good governance and relief and rehabilitation efforts in the conflict affected areas in Mindanao. As a Convener of the Bantay Ceasefire, Prof. Octavio has exemplified the ideals of active non-violence and the values of respect, tolerance and dialogue of life and faith.
Just when Drilon and company were kidnapped, the New York Times came out with an article saying that the most serious threats from the Southeast Asian terror networks are on the wane.
Police Director General Avelino Razon said unverified reports indicate that the kidnappers had asked for ransom ranging from P10 million to P30 million.
ABS-CBN explained its request for media outfits to hold the story on the abduction of its senior correspondent Ces OreÃ±a-Drilon in Sulu by the Abu Sayyaf group and its decision to enforce a news blackout.
For those interested in looking deeper into the history and culture of Sulu, the Yuchengco Museum invites the public to the unveiling of the exhibit “Beyond the Currents: The Culture and Power of Sulu” on June 21, Saturday, at 10:30 a.m.
Beyond the Currents, which runs until September 24, looks into the fascinating story of the forces that consolidated Sulu’s power as central to the trade movements between Europe and China. The museum is located at RCBC Plaza, Corner Ayala & Sen. Gil J. Puyat Avenues, Makati. To RSVP, call 889-1234 or e-mail email@example.com.
The exhibit showcases the richness of Sulu’s–and inevitably the Philippines’–history, a timely endeavor now that Sulu is in the news.
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