Journalist to file complaint vs Army brigade commander for ‘threat’

By: –

16 November 2015

MANILA, Philippines — An award-winning journalist accused by an Army
brigade commander of being in cahoots with communist rebels is filing an
official complaint against the officer, calling his statement against
her a “serious threat.”

Inday Espina-Varona, who writes for the and also
maintains a well-followed blog, announced her decision to file a
complaint against Colonel Alexander Macario of the 401st Infantry
Brigade in a post on her Facebook account. ()

Varona, who is also a former chair of the National Union of Journalists
of the Philippines, told said she would consult with her
lawyers on what charges to file against Macario but “I will definitely
file a complaint.”

The issue stems from a statement issued over the weekend by the 4th
Infantry Division, to which Macario’s brigade belongs.

The statement quotes a former New People’s Army officer as claiming
communist rebels were responsible for the November 12 burning of the
teachers’ cottage and tree nursery of the Alternative Learning Center
for Agricultural and Livelihood Development in Barangay Padiay, Sibagat,
Agusan del Sur.

The school is a branch of the award-winning tribal school in Lianga,
Surigao del Sur whose administrator, Emerito Samarca, was murdered on
September 1 along with Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Bello Sinzo
by the military-Backed Magahat militia. actually ran a story on the arson based on an interview
with Karapatan-Caraga’s Dr. Naty Castro

Tribal schools set up in lumad communities by nongovernmental
organizations have long been openly accused by the military of teaching
support for communist rebels and, in the case of ALCADEV, supposedly
being an actual training center for rebel recruits.

The 4th ID statement then faulted Varona for accusing soldiers of the
arson in relatively record time, noting that “witnesses reported the
incident to the barangay officials at around 6 am on Nov 12” and that
the journalist “immediately released information at around 8:30 am
accusing the soldiers the same day even without proper investigation.”

The still smoldering ruins of the teachers’ cottage of the ALCADEV
school in Barangay Padiay, Sibagat, Agusan del Sur after it was burned
down on November 12. (photo courtesy of Karapatan-Caraga)

It also quoted Macario as saying this of Varona: “This brings everyone
to a question on where she gets information. Aside from the witnesses,
the only persons who can give this information are the perpetrators. It
seems that this incident is planned and orchestrated.”

What the statement did not mention is that its reaction to Varona was
not against any article or blog post she wrote about the incident but to
an alert issued by the human rights group Karapatan which she had shared
on Facebook. (Here’s the link to what is clearly labeled as an alert
from Karapatan, that was shared by Varona on Facebook.)

“Now, on the basis of a post they did not bother to read — a post
clearly ascribed to an organisation — a military officer does not just
strongly hint that I am an NPA support(er). He actually makes me out as
an active collaborator of arsonists,” Varona said of Macario.

While Varona said she is no stranger to critics, she pointed to “a clear
pattern in the military’s attacks” against her for closely following the
lumad crisis in Mindanao, which has seen thousands of indigenous people
flee their homes this year because of atrocities committed by militias
and soldiers.

The Lianga murders, in particular, triggered the exodus of more than
4,000 people from several towns in Surigao del Sur who remain at the
sports center of the provincial capital Tandag City.

She said the “attacks” against her, which began with a meme accusing her
of links to the rebels that was made by “an anonymous poster on an
anonymous page” (The page was taken down shortly after media
organizations condemned the meme) that was “shared by some military
officers,” accusing her of links to the communist rebels in an anonymous
Facebook page, “hew to the same worldview that allows paramilitary datu
to justify the killing of a school teacher.”

Varona was referring to the testimony of Jumar Bucales of Lianga, who
lumad and human rights advocates said is also Marcos Bocales, the
identified leader of the Magahat, before the House of Representatives’
committee on indigenous people that Samarca was killed because he had
“poisoned” the minds of the Manobo, which committee chair Cotabato
Representative Nancy Catamco surmised to mean teaching students an

Catamco has echoed the military’s claims that lumad refugees are not
victims of atrocities but “manipulated” victims of “trafficking” by
groups out to discredit the government. She has also defended the
existence of the militias, claiming this is part of lumad culture.

“This is a country where you have legislators welcoming the idea that
murder is ok if the subject is someone with views you violently oppose,”
Varona said. “So I take the words of that military official as a serious
threat. After all, they wash their hands of the paramilitary but coddle
them in their headquarters and appear together with them.”

“We can ascribe the statements to stupidity. But stupid people — with
guns and a sterling sense that they are immune from the laws of this
land — are very dangerous people,” Varona added.

At the same time, she said, the threat from Macario would not stop her
from writing, as she has since the time of the Marcos dictatorship and
when, a decade ago, the NUJP was tagged an “enemy of the state” in a
PowerPoint presentation produced by the Intelligence Service of the
Armed Forces of the Philippines.