By: CMFR Staff
Posted on: September 25, 2023, 12:21 pm
"NAG-BOOMERANG" was how GMA-7 reporter Jun Veneracion described the press briefing that turned the story on the National Task Force to End Local Communist and Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac). On September 19, officials of the task force were set to present Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro, environmental activists who had been reported missing since September 2, as former members of the armed movement who surrendered to the military. But the two women instead revealed they were abducted and coerced to sign affidavits, doing so while sitting with military officials during the public briefing.
The live presser was cut short, some reports noted. Most reports carried the revelation, with little context on an earlier NTF-Elcac briefing in which officials said they had custody of the two activists. TV Patrol went further to ask whether the NTF-Elcac had known that Tamano and Castro would contradict the task force's story. Reporter Jeff Caparas said based on the military's demeanor during the briefing, they were indeed caught off-guard. Caparas added that in cutting the briefing short, the organizers also refused to take questions from the media, an important point that reports did not highlight.
That evening, reporters followed Tamano and Castro to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) where they had expressed their desire to go, and spoke with officials and lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group in a closed-door meeting. They later faced supporters who had been campaigning for their safe return. Both women will temporarily stay under CHR custody.
Online reports picked up National Defense chief Gilberto Teodoro's statement, promptly announcing that the activists would be charged with perjury.
For its part, the NTF-Elcac issued a statement saying they were "hoodwinked" and "betrayed" by the two activists. The task force said they were looking into filing perjury cases against Tamano and Castro, insisting that there was no coercion as Tamano's stepfather and a lawyer from the Public Attorney's Office witnessed the signing of the affidavits, a claim media did not question. Media did not probe further about the belated release of the copies of affidavits and videos of the alleged surrender, which were only given to the media on September 21.
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told Teleradyo Serbisyo that the recantation is part of a "new playbook" of the armed movement to "discredit the government." Remulla said the move was part of a "choreography" to call the international community's attention.
Coverage has so far focused on the exchange between the government and the legal counsels of the two activists. Interestingly, the print editions of Manila Bulletin, Daily Tribune and The Manila Times started telling the story by citing the defense of government officials, sidelining the controversial revelation of the activists during the September 19 briefing.
The turn of events warrants further follow-up. Philstar.com cited human rights group Karapatan's record of eight cases of enforced disappearances during the first year of the Marcos Jr. administration. Last September 13, international nonprofit Global Witness released a report saying the Philippines remains the most dangerous country in Asia for environmental defenders, with 11 killed in 2022.
Vog above Taal, smog above Manila
Newsrooms stepped up in reporting Taal's show of action starting September 21.
Dark skies hovered over Batangas and Metro Manila on September 22. Media outlets cited the warning from the Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) that Taal Volcano was spewing high levels of sulfur dioxide and volcanic smog (vog), prompting towns west of the volcano to cancel classes and issue health warnings.
Meanwhile, the local governments of the National Capital Region also decided to cancel classes on September 22 due to the dark haze that blanketed the capital. That same day, media were quick to refer to clarifications from Phivolcs, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and state weather bureau Pagasa that the vog over Taal has not reached Metro Manila, as it is carried by winds in a westward, not northward, direction. The agencies said it was smog due to pollution that was prevailing over the capital, with poor air qualities registered that day.
Phivolcs and Pagasa referred to "thermal inversion" that causes vog and smog to form. Commendably, reports by 24 Oras and Frontline Pilipinas used visual explainers to explain this phenomenon. TV Patrol's resident meteorologist Ariel Rojas also provided the differences of the terms "vog," "smog," and "haze."
As of September 23, the DENR announced that the smog over Metro Manila has subsided. Phivolcs also cautioned that the vog may recur as Taal Volcano remains under Alert Level 1. Pagasa told TV Patrol that it is possible for the vog to reach the capital next week, depending on the wind direction and the prevailing southwest monsoon. All the agencies advised the public to be ready with masks.
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