The relevance of journalists’ safety

June 21, 2008 at 10:08 am 1 comment

The kidnapping of ABS-CBN’s Ces Drilon and two cameramen brings to mind a safety for journalists training that the NUJP (National Union of Journalists of the Philippines) held last May. I’ve been meaning to post pictures of the said training, I just haven’t had the time. Now I kind of do. Hehe.

The training–which taught us first aid, road safety, crowd management (or how not to get caught up in clashes between state forces and demonstrators), basic knowledge of firearms (and how to dodge bullets), handling military surveillance and checkpoints–was basically to teach journalists how to take care of themselves and others in these perilous times.

It was an exciting and interesting one, set off by a staged accident, which in all fairness, scared almost all of us to death. It was only when Weng Paraan, NUJP secretary-general, started to sound like an instructor rather than a perturbed host that we realized Karen Papellero (NUJP staff) was a capable actress, whose drama of fluttering eyelids was only ruined by a bubbly, purple blood capsule (tsk, tsk, not the best in the market). In any case, that sense of panic that befalls anyone confronted with an accident is the first you have to conquer in first aid. That is the only way you can will your brain to remember the basics, which can be summed up in the acronym DRAB (D for danger- before responding, assess the danger to yourself and to the people around you; R for response- check for the victim’s consciousness; A for airway- check the nose and mouth for obstruction; and B- ensure the victim’s breathing).

A person can die without three minutes of oxygen, so in case the victim is not breathing, administer CPR. What looks very complicated on television is actually very easy. Just put both your hands in a general area in the middle of the chest (there is no exact spot and no time to look for one) and pump 15 times, using your body weight as leverage. Then cover the victim’s mouth wholly with yours, pinch close the nostrils, and give the breath of life.

You only stop when either the victim starts breathing, help arrives, or you simply get tired [the last being the most tragic of all]. The training also taught us how to deal with wounds, with very simple steps following the apt acronym RED (R for rest the victim–his or her moving around increases the outflow of blood; E for elevate–elevate the wound to decrease blood flow; and D for direct pressure–use anything that can pass for a bandage to press on the wound, and if there is absolutely nothing around use your hands).

(Hehe, sorry Joe Torres for this walang dangal picture). I’m scared of blood, so it was difficult for me to touch even obviously fake blood on a fake victim who sometimes can’t even keep a straight face, but I’m hoping that in case I get to deal with the real thing (a very good possibility), the instinct to save a life would enable me to think RED. A scary fact; it takes only two liters of lost blood for someone to die. Bleeding to death is actually the most common cause of death of gunshot victims, not actual damage wrought by the bullet itself.


We were also taught the basic types of firearms, their range, and what to do during a crossfire–which was very simple actually; immediately drop to the ground. Still I realized how heavy the mistaken instinct to look for cover BEFORE dropping to the ground was, when we were ‘shot at’ with a toy rifle. What you choose for cover is also very crucial. Did you know that a mound of soil is more effective than, say, a concrete post (which can be chipped away depending on the thickness of the post and the type of firearm used).

There was also this funny, almost violent exercise of what do do when harassed by a hostile crowd. Many got carried away playing the role of rowdy protesters so I escaped from this with almost-bruised arms, thank you very much. In reality though, a lot of reporters said that demonstrators in the Philippines (especially the anti-Gloria forces, hehe) are a generally peaceful, organized lot who don’t touch the media, whose job they respect. It is actually violence on the part of the anti-riot police that sparks those riotous moments that can be dangerous to journalists (or anyone for that matter).

Surveillance by the military and other powerful people whose ire they have earned is a cause of concern for a lot of journalists. Many, including She Torres of ABC-5 and Dana Batnag of Asahi Shimbun (above) have experienced outright and subtle surveillance by politicians and the military, which are done either to harass or in preparation to harm you. It is best, therefore, to be aware of your surroundings all the time. Dana, for instance, recalls an incident (after she was falsely charged with having colluded with rebel soldiers in the Manila Peninsula siege) when she noticed a tanned, muscled man with crew-cut hair looking out of place in a coffee shop in an upscale university she was in. It was enough to make her suspicious and thus more cautious. A Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter was alerted that a tambay who frequented her parent’s sari-sari store in the province might be a military agent when he started asking details about her.

There are also various ways of dealing with checkpoints where confrontations with the military (and not-state forces) can get ugly. Half of it involves knowing your basic rights–for instance, that authorities can only visually scan your vehicle and cannot inspect its interior, your belongings, or ask you to step out. But because we are in a country where most authorities wantonly violate or are unaware of laws, half of it involves common sense–opening your window wide enough only for you to hear and peer at each other and not for the person outside the vehicle to be able to reach in and open the door; informing your superiors or contacts about your whereabouts; and even name-dropping. In an exercise, veteran photojournalist Alex Baluyut had enough presence of mind to snatch from Joe (playing a military soldier) a piece of paper he grabbed from the backseat. It turned out to be “planted evidence”–a note from a New People’s Army commander thanking us for visiting their camp. Hehe. The point was, always be vigilant when approaching checkpoints–authorities can be violent, especially when they have something to hide, and may have dirty tricks up their sleeve to prevent you from coming out with your story.

The kidnapping of Drilon et al. underscores the need for journalists to be trained in handling the various dangers that come with the job. We must learn to hone our instincts–knowing when to fight and when to retreat or when to brandish our press ID and when to recognize certain situations when it is worthless or would exacerbate the danger and lie low instead. Journalists, being in the heat of the action, are also often first responders in emergency situations, as in the case of the Mendiola and Hacienda Luisita massacres. It is thus important to be adept at trying to save, and not further imperil, lives.

But even with all this talk about journalists’ safety, nothing really beats being aware of the political context of all of our actions. For instance, the admission of Drilon, presumably a highly trained journalist, that she “miscalculated” has been used by the government to adopt an I-told-you-so tone in dealing with journalists who brave risky coverage, erroneously likening in to the way the media acted during the Manila Peninsula siege. The very shady nature of the kidnapping itself is now being used by the military to heighten its offensive in Sulu and by the government to ask for additional military aid from the US, in time for Pres. Arroyo’s visit to US Pres. George W. Bush.

Is a hazy tip on the new leadership of the Abu Sayyaf–a bandit group long been associated with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (the Drilon incident notwithstanding, with her guide being exposed as a military agent), supposedly already reduced to insignificance, but time and again committing acts of terror of dubious timing–worth risking your life for? Or worth risking the lives of innocent civilians in Sulu who now bear the brunt of renewed military offensives , or the lives of activists who will surely suffer under a more heavily-budgeted counter-insurgency campaign under the guise of the “war on terror”? Thus Carlos Conde, in his blog entry, urges journalists to be reminded of the nature of those they cover. I urge us to remember the nature of the State, how we have been endangered by situations that it created, and how we can possibly even be used to further an agenda that leads us further and further away from the truth that we so strive to tell.

(Photos by Lito Ocampo)


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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. karen  |  July 8, 2008 at 9:35 am

    tsk, such an unflattering picture of my debut as an actress. wahahaha…pero in fairness nothing can top the reaction i elicited from the NCR group in the succeeding trainings that we conducted..ehehehe…hmmm, what does that say about you,guys?eheheh…

    thanks for the pictures also..=)


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