In the News: Dana Batnag

Remember Dana Batnag? We first blogged about her here and here. In our first post about her, we mentioned that Dana, then only 13 years old, won an international song writing contest sponsored by the UNICEF. You’re wondering about the song she wrote? It’s that very popular song, I Am But a Small Voice, which you sang every time you celebrated United Nations Day.

Anyways, Dana now works as a foreign correspondent with Jiji Press, a Japanese news agency. She’s in the news today because she is suspected of helping alleged coup plotter Capt. Nicanor Faeldon escape during the Manila Penn incident. Dana, whose dad comes from Besao, Mt. Province, denied the accusation and has received the support of her fellow journalists.

Here’s a news report from GMA News on this latest effort of the administration to scare members of the media:

So the RPN video footage in this report is supposed to be the evidence that points to our kailiyan as the suspected journalist who aided an alleged coup plotter? It looks to me like they are just talking. She is a reporter for Christ’s sake. She can interview any news source which Captain Faeldon definitely is. Besides if she is going to commit the crime of aiding an alleged coup plotter, would she do it in a room full of people and cameras?

I also don’t get the story that Faeldon was able to escape because he had a press identification card which Dana supposedly gave him? Really? You have probably the most wanted man in the country for the past five years and he was able to escape because of some silly identification card? So were police authorities too busy looking at ID cards such that they forgot to look at the faces of people they are inspecting? How dumb is that? No wonder Captain Faeldon has been eluding authorities for years. If an ID card is all it takes to escape from hundreds of police and military men who are purposely looking for you, I wonder what a simple wig will do?

Anyway, we are hoping that Dana’s name will be cleared. We are, of course, behind her on this one. If the government really has a case then it should bring the matter to court. I think though that authorities will not do it because they are more interested in intimidating media people.

Thanks to Ellen for the heads up on this development. Now, here’s an article from ABS-CBN which we first read at Ellen’s blog:

Dana Batnag dares govt: File charges
A foreign news correspondent being suspected of helping Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon escape after the November 29 siege at The Peninsula Manila hotel challenged the government Wednesday to formally file charges against her if it has evidence.

“I appeal to the authorities to file the proper charges before the courts to prove that this is a government of laws,” Dana Batnag said in a statement that also denied the allegations against her. Batnag works for Jiji Press, a Japanese news wire service.

She belittled the accusations against her. “I have not been informed by the police that I am a suspect in the escape of Faeldon.”

“I am honored to be one of the victims in the government’s witchunt against the media, but my conscience is clear for I have done nothing wrong,” she added.

Reports, meanwhile, said that the military has already put the suspected reporter, who has not been officially named, under surveillance.

Earlier, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said the Philippine National Police should name the reporter who allegedly helped Faeldon in light of the fact that Batnag’s name surfaced in relation to the charge.

“With that revelation, it would be better for PNP to come out with [a] name and evidence. And [for] this Dana to meet this head-on so we can lay the issue to rest,” Gonzalez said.

“It’s good for her to come out and make the denials so PNP will be forced to come out with evidence,” he added.

Batnag supported
Groups of journalists, meanwhile, issued statements in support of Batnag. The Foreign Correspondents’ Association of the Philippines, of which Batnag is vice-president, said, “FOCAP will not comment based on a rumor. We are appealing to the authorities to stop maligning the media. And they should file the appropriate cases in court, the right venue to clear these allegations.”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), for its part, said the reports linking a member of the media to Faeldon’s escape is “tantamount to rumor-mongering.”

“We challenge them (police) to file the case if they have a case to file. Otherwise, they should stop the witchhunting and rumor-mongering that it has allowed itself to sink into,” the NUJP said.

The group said it stands by “any journalist that the PNP will falsely accuse in its shameful campaign to justify its arrest of journalists last Nov. 29 and the subsequent threats they issued.”

Meanwhile, government television network RPN-9 said it has reviewed raw footage “many times over” of the standoff at The Peninsula.

“We came across this certain video which was apparently taken by one of our cameramen by accident — Capt Faeldon in one corner of the Peninsula lobby, speaking with one lady reporter,” a statement signed by RPN news and current affairs director Marigold Haber-Dunca said.

“We are not siding with anyone, we are not passing judgement on anyone, let the video speak for itself. We are making this video available to anyone who needs it, in the interest of transparency,” she added.

Inquirers tags Batnag
While The Philippine Star and other broadsheets have been referring to Batnag as the “mysterious lady reporter” who allegedly helped Faeldon escape, a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer written by Alcuin Papa identified the foreign correspondent.

The Inquirer article said that according to an unnamed military source, Batnag gave a press identification card to Faeldon that allowed the wily leader of the band of rebel soldiers to escape. The sources said they were not authorized to talk to media but explained that Batnag was captured on camera by a crew of RPN-9.

Reached for comment, Batnag said, “I won’t even dignify any statement made by an anonymous source. The police should make it official.”

Batnag, the report added, further stated that “it seems they are trying to pin the blame on media for Faeldon’s escape. It would be better if they just filed the case in court.”

PNP Director General Avelino Razon, meanwhile, declined to name the reporter. He said he is confident that Faeldon and his accomplices would soon be arrested, even saying they would probably do so within a few days or weeks.

The 42-year-old Faeldon was arrested after participating in the siege of the Oakwood apartments in Makati City in July 2003. He was then consorting with a female military lawyer and this led to his eventual arrest.

He joined former Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes IV, now a senator, in the walkout from from a court hearing on the Oakwood rebellion case. Together, they walked to The Peninsula which they held for several hours.

Faeldon was thought to have escaped during the melee. The government has put up a P1-million reward for his recapture.

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