Battle zone for media


Fernando “Kapid” Gabio had been getting death threats for more than six months now. He used to brush them aside, thinking these were empty threats. But when his radio program partner, Lito Jimena, was shot down in cold blood in E. B. Magalona a little over six months ago, he started taking precautions. He took to packing a cal. 45 pistol in addition to the micro-cassette recorder, notebook and ballpen. He also made it a point to bring one or two friends with him as bodyguards.

On a sunny Friday morning just outside his home in Jaro, Iloilo City, Gabio was thankful about taking those precautions. He was looking over his car parked beside a busy road when he sensed danger approaching; two helmeted men riding a motorcycle came towards him just as he turned to look. Gabio saw the back-rider draw a gun. Instantly, Gabio reached for his own pistol while literally diving for cover behind his car. Those milliseconds saved his life.

When the gunmen opened fire — three successive shots from a cal. 45 pistol — much of Gabio’s body was already behind cover. Only his right leg was exposed. One bullet hit him a few inches above the knee. Two other rounds hit the concrete wall behind him. “I wanted to fire back, but a wave of numbness, and then pain swept over me,” he said. He collapsed. Luckily for him, the gunmen rode away, not wanting to risk engaging him in a gunfight.

At the hospital emergency room, Gabio didn’t show manifestations of pain or fear. He even mocked his attackers: “Stupid guys, you can’t even shoot straight.” There was no doubt in his mind the attack was related to his stinging commentaries about the anomalies in City Hall. The nature of his radio talk hasn’t changed since Jimena was murdered. By this alone, it becomes crystal clear Jimena’s killing wasn’t about drugs as some quarters want to portray. The attempt on Gabio was directly connected to Jimena’s murder.

Who would have wanted Gabio dead? Just put together the obvious clues and the answer will leap at you. And this string of violence is consistent with the aggressive social media machinery put together by Jepoy Celiz, the political affairs officer of Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog, to malign, demean, besmirch and disparage journalists who expose the corruption in City Hall. In a manner of speaking, the effort is being waged to “kill” these journalists, myself included, before the public. As Senator Gringo Honasan put it, there are people who would rather be dead than have their honor sullied.

But the media crusaders understand the purpose of this black propaganda strategy. Mabilog can’t refute the issues raised against him, so he resorts to below-the-belt tactics to try and discourage media from pursuing stories critical to him. On another tier, there is a more physical approach to achieving the same results: shut up the mouths of the media. Such tactics, however, are not going to work. We will not stop. We will brush aside the brickbats and remain focused on the issues.

The situation illustrates the real dangers that confront the media profession here. Iloilo City is now a battle zone where perhaps helmets and bullet proof vests should become standard equipment for journalists. The tragedy is that the Philippine National Police isn’t doing its duty to protect the lives of the people against the bad men. There are indications the PNP is even protecting the bad guys. It becomes even more frightening.

Gabio is a lucky man. He regarded Iloilo City as a battle zone and constantly prepared for any eventualities. We just hope the entire media establishment will take note of this dangerous situation and send the Marines in here. Indeed, corruption is a deadly enemy. The mission, however, is far from over. We will continue to perform our mission to expose the truth.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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