Journalists slam Iloilo City mayor’s threats vs media

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas. (Arnold Almacen photo)

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

Members of the media in Iloilo have condemned the “threat” made by Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas during his regular press conference with the Iloilo City Hall Press Corps on Monday morning, May 20.

“We, members of the Iloilo Press, are deeply concerned with Mayor Jerry Treñas’ recent threats against our colleagues […] Mayor Treñas’ reaction, including his threats to sue journalists, is not only unfortunate but also chilling. It is unbecoming of a public official who claims to champion freedom,” members of the media said in a unity statement released on Tuesday.

They referenced reports from multiple organizations, such as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, which have raised alarms about the increasing instances of “lawfare,” where legal means are used to harass and intimidate journalists.

“We hope that this will not become a trend in Iloilo City,” the statement continued.

The city mayor was noted saying, “Based on what you are saying, I can file cases against you (media),” citing a private message from National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Commissioner for Cultural Heritage Ivan Anthony Henares.

In the press conference, Treñas particularly mentioned Daily Guardian and Panay News, which both reported on the statements made by the NCCA commissioner during a forum hosted by the National Museum of the Philippines on May 18.

The two media outlets reported Henares’ statements that they were “trying to study what happened” and “we are still investigating the incident” related to the demolition of the Iloilo Central Market’s façade.

Notably, the forum stated that Henares was representing the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as one of the three panelists in the discussion.

However, Henares clarified to Daily Guardian on Sunday that it was the cultural agencies, particularly the NCCA, who are looking into whether the demolition has approval from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and that there is “no formal investigation.”

Henares also labeled the reporting of the two media outlets on his statement during the forum as “irresponsible journalism.”

“Irresponsible reporting involves fabricating stories, twisting words, and sensationalizing issues unfairly. However, our coverage, along with that of other media outlets, accurately reflected the statements made by Dr. Ivan Anthony Henares,” members of the media added.

They further emphasized that the press reported Henares’ words “faithfully” and sought comments from the city mayor to provide a “balanced perspective.”

“The real issue lies in Dr. Henares’ statements, not in the press coverage. If Dr. Henares has backtracked under pressure, that is his issue to address. The media cannot be faulted for reporting accurately on his initial remarks,” the statement continued.

According to the statement, the mayor’s outburst against the press also sends the wrong message that public officials or people in power have the right to attack the media for what they deem as unfavorable reportage or commentary.

Meanwhile, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines – Panay also “[condemned] the brazen, unruly, and rash behavior” of the city mayor.

“It is such a shame to malign and threaten journalists, who are only doing their responsibilities to report the matter. This is a clear depiction of media censorship and a blatant attack on media and press freedom,” the guild added.

‘TOTALLY UNCALLED FOR’

Treñas issued a statement on Monday evening expressing his apology for his outburst during the press conference, describing it as “totally uncalled for.”

He also denied that he “did not threaten to file cases against any member of the media,” and that “I have not filed any case or threatened to file any case against any member of the media in my almost four decades of public service.”

The city mayor also confirmed his intent to pursue legal action against Nereo Lujan, chief of the Iloilo Provincial Information and Community Affairs Office (PICAO).

During the Monday press conference, he said he would be filing charges of cyber libel, a civil case for damages, and another undetermined case before the Civil Service Commission against Lujan within the week.

On Tuesday, May 21, Treñas announced on his official Facebook page that he had filed a cyber libel complaint at the Office of the City Prosecutor in the Hall of Justice.

The criminal and administrative complaints filed against the PICAO chief stem from his alleged online harassment towards the city mayor.

“He has been bullying me on his Facebook page for so long for no reason at all. I have kept quiet, but enough is enough,” Treñas said on May 1.

Treñas said Lujan is not a media practitioner but a government official, who is supposedly guided by Republic Act No. 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

The PICAO chief has been a staunch critic of the demolition of the 80-year-old art deco façade of the Iloilo Central Market.

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