MANILA, Philippines — The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on Friday took exception to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) statement that urged members of the media to “exercise prudence in the course of their job” after a civilian Filipino vesssel carrying an ABS-CBN news team was harassed by Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) supposedly just 90 nautical miles off Palawan.
“[NUJP] welcomes the military’s concern over harassment of a civilian vessel carrying ABS-CBN journalist Chiara Zambrano and her team by Chinese vessels in Philippine waters as well as the investigation the Armed Forces of the Philippines has promised,” NUJP said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
“We take exception, however, to the AFP’s statement suggesting that the incident was caused by ‘journalists’ insatiable desire to be ahead in reporting’ and its suggestion for them ‘to exercise prudence in the course of their job’,” it added.
The latest WPS incident happened while the news team was trying to cover concerns of local fishermen and he fact that 200 Chinese ships are still anchored near the Julian Felipe reef, a part of the country’s continental shelf and inside the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
According to NUJP, the ABS-CBN news team was doing a legal act in moving over the country’s territorial waters, which should not be questioned by the military.
Instead, the union said that questions should be directed at China, as its ships are still staying near the reef despite repeated calls from the country’s defense and foreign affairs officials.
“It is almost like the military is asking the Filipino journalists ‘what were you doing there?’ even when the better question might be aimed at the AFP: What were you not doing there?” NUJP asked.
“An even more important question is what the Chinese military was doing in our waters and how the Duterte administration plans to address this incident,” she added.
On Thursday, ABS-CBN reported that one of its news teams was aboard a civilian vessel traveling across the West Philippine Sea near Palawan — within the EEZ — when a Chinese Coast Guard ship approached them before reaching Ayungin Shoal.
The Chinese Coast Guard ship eventually left them, but to the news team’s surprise, two boats that appeared to be a Type 22 Houbei class missile boat pursued the civilian Filipino vessel.
In the statement on Friday, AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said that the military is concerned over reports of harassment, vowing to investigate the incident.
The AFP said that it has discussed the issue with the news team. However, it then reminded journalists to “exercise prudence”, even as they “understand the journalists’ insatiable desire to be ahead in reporting”.
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