MANILA, Philippines – The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has censured blogger Rey Joseph “RJ” Nieto, an avid supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte, for his allegedly groundless accusation against photojournalist Jes Aznar.
“We condemn ThinkingPinoy and Mr. Nieto for endangering a journalist, more so on unfounded reasons. We likewise condemn those who threaten our colleague who was simply doing his job,” the NUJP said in a statement issued Tuesday.
In his ThinkingPinoy Facebook (FB) page, Nieto posted last June 16 a screenshot of Aznar’s video post on Instagram, saying the photojournalist was “revealing the positions of government snipers” in Marawi City “to any terrorist with a smartphone.”
Aznar is a Filipino documentary photographer based in Manila, who is now covering the crisis in Marawi. He is a regular New York Times contributor. Aznar’s works had also been featured on The Washington Post, Getty Images, Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, among other media outfits and organizations.
He then cussed, called Aznar an idiot, and asked that the photojournalist be removed from Marawi. “‘Tang i*a tanggalin niyo yang idiota na yan dyan!”
Nieto’s post against Aznar earned the ire of several FB commenters, some of whom called for the removal of journalists from covering the clashes in the Lanao del Sur capital.
The following day, Aznar, in his FB post, clarified that soldiers in the video were no longer in the area when he posted the footage on Instagram, stressing that journalists are fully aware of the dangers involved in covering conflicts.
“The scene depicts soldiers exiting from a position which we were holed in after taking enemy sniper fire for hours. Thus, the troops were not there anymore when the post was made. If one would think logically, putting the soldier’s life in danger in this situation would definitely put me in harm’s way as well.”
The photojournalist also advised “the gentleman (Nieto) to retract his attacks and make a public apology or face legal repercussions.”
However, Nieto in another FB post last June 18 insisted that Aznar’s video of government snipers was “freshly filmed” when he uploaded the clip on social media.
“The Marawi Crisis broke out around the afternoon of May 23, so his video was less than 48 hours old when it was posted, contrary to his incredible claim that it was already three weeks old before it was uploaded,” the blogger said.
“Moreover, his first IG post about the Marawi Siege was on May 25 itself, suggesting that the controversial video he posted on May 25 was indeed taken on the same day,” added Nieto.
In the same post, Nieto told Aznar “to get out of Mindanao for your own good.”
“According to your own website, you are still in Marawi. That’s bad not only for the heroes of Marawi (because you’re an idiot) but also for you (because you’re an idiot),” Nieto told Aznar.
“Mr. Aznar, let me remind you that Pres. Rody Duterte, on that same day, suspended the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao, so you can be arrested anytime – – even without a warrant – – for aiding and abetting the Maute Rebels, whether out of hatred for the administration, or out of sheer stupidity,” he said.
“So I suggest that you board the first flight out before some AFP general orders your arrest because trust me, you will be no hero in the eyes of Filipinos,” the blogger added.
The NUJP in its statement expressed concern over the threats that the photojournalist had been receiving since the heated exchange between Nieto and Aznar began last week.
“Aznar has repeatedly clarified he posted the photo in question when they were already out of the area, thus he could not have endangered the soldiers at that time,” the NUJP said.
“He also said that he only had good intentions in posting the photo on his Facebook social media account, such as showing the public how active the government troops were in quelling the Maute and Abu Sayyaf,” the organization added.
The media group also urged authorities to protect Aznar from threats and to help the photojournalist if he would take legal action regarding the incident.
It also acknowledged the bravery of journalists currently covering the conflict in Marawi, which continues to be under attack by the ISIS-linked Maute-led forces.
“We commend the brave journalists who inform the Filipino people and the world about the unfolding events in Marawi City and elsewhere,” the NUJP said.