Soldiers Maul Journalist, 7 Others in Batangas

Melvin Mamis, 27, a correspondent of the alternative multi-media group Southern Tagalog Exposure, was choked as a soldier of the 20th Special Forces grabbed his camera. He was forcibly brought inside the camp where he was repeatedly punched at the stomach.

Willy Solis, a volunteer of the human rights group Karapatan-Southern Tagalog, was slapped, punched and repeatedly stuck at the nape while being questioned.

By Dennis Espada
Bulatlat.com

A correspondent of the alternative multi-media group Southern Tagalog Exposure (STExposure), together with seven others, were detained for several hours and repeatedly mauled by soldiers of the Philippine Army’s 20th Special Forces Company last May 31 inside a military camp in Barangay Puting Kahoy, Rosario town, Batangas, a province south of Manila, while doing the rounds of military camps in the area to search for three missing persons.

STEXposure cameraman Melvin Mamis, Willy Solis, a volunteer of the human rights group Karapatan-Southern Tagalog (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) and three drivers hired by the group said that they were arbitrarily detained, kicked and punched while being interrogated by army soldiers who accused them of being “NPA” (New People’s Army) rebels.

Two of their companions, 24-year old Christine dela Cruz of Tanggol Karapatan and human rights volunteer Dina Castillo, were also detained and interrogated.

The assailants, some of them in plain clothes, did not wear their nameplates the whole time, witnesses said.

The incident took place when a fact-finding team led by Karapatan-Southern Tagalog went to the camp at around 2:30 p.m. on May 31 to inquire about the whereabouts of three suspected NPA guerillas who were allegedly arrested by the military. The fact-finding team was formed after the families of Sharon Mendoza, Arnel de las Alas, and Dandy Cuerta approached Karapatan-Southern Tagalog asking for their assistance in looking for their relatives. Their relatives were allegedly arrested after a reported “encounter” between the NPA and soldiers of the 402nd Infantry Brigade last May 30 in Barangay Mabato, also in Rosario.

Arbitrary arrest and manhandling

In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Melvin Mamis related that tensions started while negotiations between the fact-finding mission team and the military were still going on. He was filming the negotiations when a soldier approached him and told him to stop. Another soldier, in plain clothes and wearing a bonnet, approached the team and took photos of the members. Suddenly, a soldier tried to seize the video camera of Melvin Mamis. He resisted, consequently causing a violent skirmish.

Melvin ran toward their vehicle to protect his camera. Three soldiers hit him with rifle butts while trying to block his path. One of them went inside the jeep and choked him until he let go of his video camera, which was already broken.

Not contented with this, the soldiers forcibly brought him inside the camp where he was made to sit on a chair as one soldier punched him repeatedly at the stomach.

According to Melvin, one soldier even remarked in a disparaging way: “Pa media-media ka pa ha!…’di mo ba alam na bawal magkuha ng video dito sa kampo?” (You’re trying to pose as a media person…don’t you know that it is prohibited to take video footages of the camp?)

Asked who owns the Sony Hi-8 video camera and who ordered him to take footages, Melvin answered it was his and he did it on his own will. He was slapped on the face.

While this was going on, Willy Solis, a volunteer of the human rights group Karapatan-Southern Tagalog, was repeatedly slapped, punched, and struck at the nape while being questioned. Being struck on the nape three times in rapid succession, he said, was “parang kinukuryente” (like being electrocuted).

“Nagdidilim ang paningin ko noon” (I almost lost consciousness), Solis recalled after being struck hard on the nape at least 15 times.

Solis averred that they were released at about 7 p.m. after being forced to sign a blank paper. They were even threatened.

Solis recalled the soldiers telling them, “Mag-iingat kayo! Pasensyahan na lang tayo kung magkikita uli tay. Huwag na kayong babalik dito kundi magkakaalaman na tayo” (Beware! If something happens to you the next time we meet it will be your own doing. Do not ever come back or you will find out what is in store for you).

The Karapatan-Southern Tagalog immediately filed a complaint before the local police so that the incident will be recorded in the police blotter. In the complaint, the fact-finding mission team said that 21 individuals were physically assaulted while 62 others were harassed.

Blatant attack

In a statement, the STEXposure condemned the “blatant attack on its members and correspondents who deeply engages dialogue through their medium in its resolve to create committed productions.”

As members of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the group asserted that they are a legitimate media organization whose film credits gained recognition in award-giving circles such as the Gawad CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) for Alternative Film and Video and were screened in various alternative, local and international venues.()

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