Friday, April 20, 2007

Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter adds to victims of political repression

Inquirer newsman shot
Reporter survives slay try, blames congressman

By Norman Bordadora, Marlon Ramos
Posted date: April 20, 2007

LUCENA CITY -- The wave of political killings caught up Thursday with a correspondent of Inquirer Southern Luzon bureau, and Delfin Mallari Jr. said he had the heavy tint on his car windows and the would-be assassin’s jammed pistol to thank for his survival.

But Mallari’s wife Perseveranda, or Persy, said his new lease on life was God’s answer to her usual prayer for his safety whenever he left home for work -- as well as a gift from on high for their 24th wedding anniversary Thursday. “I thank God for this gift of another chance to be with him,” she said.

Mallari and his colleague Johnny Glorioso were on their way to radio station dwKI for their 8 a.m. program “JS Files” when a man on a motorcycle driven by another man fired at them through the driver’s side of their vehicle at around 7:40 a.m. on a busy street in Barangay Ibabang Dupay.

Mallari, who was at the wheel of his car, was hit, the bullet lodging in the left side of his back a few centimeters from his spine. Glorioso was unhurt.

At press time, the .45-cal. slug was still in Mallari’s body. There was no injury to vital organs, according to his attending physician, Wilfredo Frondoza of the MMG Hospital on Maharlika Highway near the crime scene in Ibabang Dupay.

“He’s now safe,” Frondoza told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of “Performing an operation to remove the slug would do him more harm.”

The Inquirer, through publisher Isagani Yambot, said: “We denounce the blatant display of harassment and violence against journalists. The shooting of our correspondent Delfin Mallari Jr. was probably intended to stop him from making further exposés.

“Resorting to ambush is the greatest display of cowardice and guilt. We expect the authorities to do their best in bringing to justice the people responsible for this despicable deed.”

Malacañang, through Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, deplored the “despicable” attack, saying “it has no place in a democracy that upholds press freedom.”

Bunye said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had ordered the law enforcement agencies in Lucena City to “carry out a swift and thorough investigation” of the ambush.

Hit men

On his hospital bed, Mallari said the attack was the handiwork of hit men of a Quezon politician who wanted to “silence” him.

He initially refused to name the politician, but later disclosed that on March 9, Quezon Rep. Rafael Nantes met with him and Glorioso and told him to stop his critical commentary over his radio program.

Nantes is now seeking the governorship of Quezon province.

“He was discouraging us from continuing our commentary and wanted us to help him in his campaign. But we couldn’t do that because if we did so, people would think we were on the take,” Mallari said, adding:

“We have [a local newspaper] Ang Diyaryo Natin, and we have our radio program “JS Files” on two stations and on local cable TV. He had been a subject of some of our recent commentaries.

“I told him many issues would surface because it’s the election period. All he had to do was answer the issues.”

Mallari said Nantes threatened him, saying in Filipino: “If I lose in the election, blood will flow. I don’t know what my men will do.”

He said that at one point he was asked to leave the meeting place -- a McDonald’s restaurant in Tiaong town -- while Nantes tried to talk Glorioso into convincing Mallari to stop his criticisms on the radio.

Nantes supposedly told Glorioso to tell Mallari to name his price, and he would get the money “immediately -- the following day.”

Mallari said he didn’t bite.

Sought for comment, Nantes denied offering Mallari any money.

“I would not dare offer him money because I know he’s a principled journalist,” Nantes said.

He said all he had told Mallari and Glorioso was that he was willing to finance their radio program.

Range of issues

As a Lucena-based correspondent of the Inquirer, Mallari has reported on a range of issues involving the local elections, counterinsurgency, crime, environmental protection, illegal logging, “jueteng” and drug smuggling.

He has managed to cultivate a variety of sources including military and police officials, communist insurgents, leaders and members of nongovernment organizations, environment protection advocates, Church authorities and representatives of marginalized sectors like fisherfolk, indigenous peoples and farmers.

“I don’t think the military or the [communist New People’s Army] is behind this [attack],” Mallari said. “I have covered the insurgency, including writing about Communist Party of the Philippines founding chair Jose Maria Sison and CPP spokesperson Gregorio Rosal, and I have been able to get the respect of both sides. I don’t think the military is behind this. I sometimes have breakfast in Camp Nakar.”

Glorioso said both he and Mallari had an idea as to who might have ordered the attack.

He declined to name names for the moment but said: “This is definitely work-related and politically motivated.”

Mallari and Glorioso’s “JS files” is also aired over dzLT and local cable STV-6 at 5-6 p.m. on weekdays. The TV program is taped while the dzLT program is aired live.

Mallari’s account

Mallari talked in whispers as he recounted the attack:

“It was a good thing I had the car windows tinted. Johnny (Glorioso) told me to do it for my security, and I did so. If I didn’t, I could have been hit in the head.

“The gun also jammed. If it didn’t, I would have been surely hit because the gunman was trying to continue firing.”

Per Mallari’s account, he did not immediately know he was shot:

“I thought somebody just threw a stone at the car (a 1990s Honda Civic). It was when I saw the gunman still shooting at me that I realized I was being shot at.

“I also didn’t feel that I was shot because I didn’t feel any pain. I only realized I was shot when I saw the bullet hole in my window. I also then saw in front of me the two gunmen on a motorcycle with a ‘No plate available’ sign.

“I didn’t panic. I was still able to pull over to the side of the road. Johnny went down from the right side and volunteered to drive me to the hospital.

“He asked me to transfer to the right side. I did so on my own because I was not feeling any pain. But then he couldn’t open the [driver’s side] door because it was jammed. Apparently, the bullet that hit the door caused it to jam.

“Johnny broke the glass but still couldn’t open the door. When I moved to the right side of the car, I went out and there were already tricycles and barangay tanod (guards). A barangay tanod went with me to the hospital in a tricycle.

“Johnny was about to ride with me in the tricycle to the hospital but I told him I had important things in the car, like my laptop. I asked him to stay and look after my things.”

Glorioso’s account

Glorioso said he had asked Mallari to collect him at a gasoline station on Maharlika Highway several kilometers from the radio station because he had to have his own car checked.

Recalled Glorioso:

“We were talking in the car. Delfin must have lost his concentration. He usually checks his side and rear view mirrors for possible tails.

“He didn’t see the motorcycle following us. Two shots rang out -- pak, pak, one immediately after the other as if the one who fired really knew how to shoot.

“When I saw the gunman, he was still pointing his gun and was pulling the trigger. The gun jammed. After a while, he placed his gun on his holster.”

Mallari said he and Glorioso had received reports that Nantes was involved in illegal drugs and illegal logging.

Nantes told the Inquirer that he had no quarrel with Mallari.

He admitted having met with Mallari and Glorioso and appealed to the two to stop their critical commentary because it was the election season.

“I condemn this incident because it generates fear in my compatriots,” Nantes said in Filipino. “I am not doing Mallari any harm. All I asked was for them to stop attacking me on radio.”

Nantes also said that if the intention was to have Mallari killed, he would have been shot in the head.

“Let us allow the investigation to proceed,” he said.

Relief of police chief

In Bangued town in Abra, Philippine National Police Director General Oscar Calderon said he had ordered the administrative relief of the police chief of Lucena.

Calderon said he had ordered Supt. Nelson Luquin’s relief because the attack on Mallari and Glorioso happened in the Poblacion (town center) area.

Incidents such as an ambush are not supposed to happen especially in public places, Calderon said, adding:

“There’s no way to justify this.”

Luquin has been replaced by Supt. Marcos Abadilla Jr. With reports from Nikko Dizon in Bangued Abra; Juliet Labog-Javellana in Manila

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