Istambay sa Mindanao

Personal blog of MindaNews' Walter I. Balane. Visit www.mindanews.com for more news, views and information on Mindanao.

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Location: Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, Mindanao, Philippines

I'm Walter Balane. I am a journalist based in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, Philippines. I initiated the group called Atong Press (www.atongpress.ning.com) for press freedom and responsibility and media education in Bukidnon.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Opinion: A little about the "BIG battle"

DAVAO CITY - Imagine waking up one morning and be shocked upon reading Mindanao Daily Mirror’s headline, "Big battle erupts in Bukidnon."

What battle?

The headline story goes: "A heavy gun battle between government troops and the New People's Army (NPA) erupted in Bukidnon, Saturday, the military here said. As of noon time yesterday fighting was still raging in Nabunturan area, Barangay Maputi, San Fernando town, Agusan del Sur, some 950 kilometers southeast of Manila."

This is indeed an alarming story. Its title names the whole province of Bukidnon in an "eruption" of a "big battle". I was in a state of shock. I left Bukidnon for Davao City on Saturday afternoon.

Based on the report, the "big battle" happened when government troops encountered a 70-man rebel group believed responsible for the burning of heavy equipment of a construction firm in Agusan del Sur on Friday.

Is Nabunturan a town, barangay, or sitio? Is there a San Fernando town in Agusan del Sur or did the report refer to the San Fernando town in Bukidnon? If so, where is Barangay Maputi? The public information officer of San Fernando insisted, on a phone interview with MindaNews, that there is no such place. If the encounter happened in Agusan then why did the report locate it in Bukidnon?

She said the initial reports of the encounter referred to Brgy. Matupe (not Maputi), which is at Bukidnon’s border with Agusan del Sur and Davao del Norte. From an updated report culled from the PNA website, the "big battle" happened in Sitio Nabunturan, Barangay Maputi, San Fernando, Bukidnon.

The battle could be "big" because the military cited 10 casualties from the NPA side, as cited in the updated PNA report . Still, the story bordered on sensationalism when it named the whole of Bukidnon in the title though it only happened in one area!

The use of "erupt" also calls to mind "volcanic" activity, which makes it really a case of sensationalism.

The encounter occurred on Saturday, the report was written on Sunday, June 11 and came out in PNA’s subscriber-newspapers like Daily Mirror on June 12. Why did PNA rush to release the story amid those inaccuracies?

The news agency, under the Office of the President via the Press Secretary, used only military sources in the report. There is even no mention of the effects of the big battle to the civilians in the area. Why would PNA waste people’s money in an incomplete report like this?

The public information office of the municipality of San Fernando, Bukidnon told MindaNews that they have not yet received reports of any evacuation of civilians in the area. Such evacuation could be one indicator of the "big battle".

Bernabe Manda, San Fernando police station officer-in-charge, told Malaybalay-based Central Mindanao Newswatch reporter Mel B. Madera (via text message) that the military encounter occurred outside of San Fernando’s area of responsibility. Even out of Bukidnon!

Just a few days ago, Bukidnon was dragged by the National Security Adviser who alleged there were mass graves from an alleged NPA purge. What mass graves? Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri, Jr. reacted negatively to that pronouncement. The National Security Adviser was declared persona non-grata by the provincial board.

With that and this "big battle" report, what is the government-owned news agency pitching in this part of Mindanao? The PNA update cited that the rebels allegedly collect revolutionary tax to at least three companies in the area.

Whatever is going on, the report placed Bukidnon in a bad light. I wonder how the governor and the local legislators would react to this. People in Bukidnon now have to deal with that image of big battles, thanks to this report.

Is accuracy sacrificed in the name of finding short words for a story’s title because of limited space? Or is this pitching up a policy of war in a peaceful province? It could happen to any province, I bet. What's the difference between this and the unfair generalization of a "war in Mindanao" where there are only skirmishes in a town in one or two provinces?

As a journalist, I have made my own kind of mistakes, but not this kind.

The greater duty rests in the news agency and the newspaper that used the story.

I find ill not only in the choice of title, which is really a big slap to peacefulness. But also the whole report’s intent and impact.

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