Journalists’ concerns for their safety (Part 2)
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Journalists’ concerns for their safety (Part 2)

/ 04:10 AM February 27, 2024

Zamboanga City—I am here continuing my role as one of the resource persons in this two-part series of capacitating local journalists covering the island provinces in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. Last week, I was in Davao City for the training of the batch of journalists covering the mainland areas of the autonomous region (the Maguindanao provinces, Lanao del Sur, Cotabato City, and the Special Geographic Area of the 63 barangays in North Cotabato).

The city of Zamboanga is more than just a façade of colorful cultural icons, from the various ethnolinguistic groups from its neighboring islands of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, as well as its second- or third-generation migrant populations that have evolved not only delicious local fusion cuisine but also of a local lingua franca that is more of a creole version of Spanish, Chavacano. It also has its checkered history of fiery encounters that date back to colonial years and even in recent times, the highlight of which was the infamous Zamboanga siege of 2013.

Against this backdrop of both the colorful and some tragic incidents, a group of journalists and radio reporters has managed to navigate through different challenging situations, many times impacting their sense of safety that for some, have morphed into deep-seated trauma that has remained embedded in their subconscious for years. A few of them have passed on to the next life, with their unaddressed deep trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) buried with them.


The Bangsamoro region may not be a dangerous context as the Gaza Strip is, but being an “epicenter” of violent conflict for more than five decades, it is both a seductive and threatening environment for people who cover its events, especially violent ones. For several journalists such incidents have made them wary of their safety and security, and for a few, it has become sources of deeply embedded, and unaddressed PTSD.


A veteran journalist, Ed Lingao, once remarked in one capacity-building workshop for journalists, “Matagal na kaming takot, pero andito pa rin kami (We have been afraid for a long time, yet, we are still here).” It seems that despite all the probable dangerous situations journalists are confronted with to do their jobs well, they still are at it, bearing in mind that being exposed to this kind of atmosphere is just one hazard related to their jobs.

Still, another vital issue for journalists is the kind of remuneration they receive, especially for provincial and local journalists who receive paltry salaries or wages. For some, this has become a justification for receiving money in envelopes (thus the term “envelopmental journalism”) from local politicians and government officials who want to have more “praise” than press releases from news reporters. (In these days of advanced technology, payola for some unscrupulous reporters is hidden through GCash or similar automated fund transfers directly to the accounts of reporters.) The journalists here also expressed this, along with poor working conditions, lack of protective gear (physical protection), and insurance just in case something untoward happens to them.

With this in mind, the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC), with generous support from the British Embassy in Manila, has launched a capacity-building training for local and regional-based journalists, including radio news reporters, to address challenges on their safety and security while on critical or dangerous assignments.

Aside from possible actual violent threats or veiled warnings to “just report what information we feed you,” some Mindanao-based women journalists have also shared their experiences of subtle and blatant acts of sexual harassment when they are on field assignment. The harassment can come from petty government officials and members of security forces like army soldiers and members of the local or regional police forces. They tend to brush these acts aside thinking that they are “hazards of this job,” but those who are quite aware of gender-inappropriate behavior from male respondents or informants consider such acts as serious affronts to their dignity as women and as journalists.

A few veteran Mindanao-based journalists have considered conceptualizing virtual safe spaces for them to share their stories since these are helpful ways of unloading both pleasant and unpleasant experiences of their innumerable exposures to the “risks and hazards” of their jobs. They are thinking of using the metaphor of the indigenous clay jar, “banga,” as the symbol of where they store their subconscious their myriad experiences of being threatened, harassed, or cajoled into doing something unethical as documenters of truth.

(To be concluded next week)


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TAGS: journalist, opinion, Zamboanga City

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