Journalist endangered by military blunder

Manila, July 12, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about a case of mistaken identity that could jeopardize the safety of Philippine journalist Bernadette Tamayo, a veteran military correspondent with the People’s Journal newspaper.

Military intelligence officials on the southern island of Mindanao have issued a “wanted poster” that mistakenly included a picture of Tamayo, identifying her as a member of the Abu Sayyaf guerrilla group and placing a 1 million peso (US$20,000) bounty on her head.

Tamayo told CPJ that the error could cost her life, especially in the strife-torn southern region, where the Philippine military has declared an all-out war on the guerrilla group. Tamayo’s picture was taken with members of the Abu Sayyaf in May 2000 when she was conducting an interview for her newspaper.

Tamayo criticized military officials for failing to corroborate the information in the poster and not checking her identity. “It was haphazard and dangerous,” Tamayo told CPJ.

She said that although military officials have cleared her of any involvement with the guerrilla group, she remains concerned that she may be harmed if she returns to Mindanao.

Abu Sayyaf guerrillas have been involved in kidnap-for-ransom activities in southern Mindanao and have also been the target of Philippine army units being trained by the U.S. military. Last month, U.S. missionary Martin Burnham, a captive of the Abu Sayyaf, was killed during a rescue attempt staged by the Philippine military.

“The military should exercise utmost caution before labeling anyone a terrorist. This kind of reckless action can get people killed,” said CPJ Asia consultant A. Lin Neumann. “We urge the Philippine military to issue a press release disavowing the poster and sending instructions to its field units clearing Tamayo’s name.”