Cebu, Philippines – A Cebu news photographer was mauled on Monday while covering the tension in Bogo City where police and election officials were trying to retrieve ballot boxes for the last-stage canvassing of the 4th district congressional race.
Alex Badayos, chief photographer of Sun.Star Cebu, was mobbed by unidentified Martinez supporters and some uniformed personnel of the Bogo Traffic Management Office (BTMO) as he was about to go up to the second floor of the City Hall.
Badyos suffered bruises in the head and body from several kicks and punches. His shoulder bag containing a laptop computer and a digital camera were taken from him.
Sun.Star editor in chief Pachico Seares said in a statement that the paper would file charges once Badayos is able to identify any of his attackers.
“Gikulata ko. Gikuha akong bag. Suko sila sa Sun Star kay biased kuno,” Badyos said after his ordeal. “Igo ra man ko nag-cover unya kalit lang ko nila gibun-og.”
He and Cebu Daily News photo editor Tonee Despojo were trying to go after an unidentified man who had grabbed two ballot boxes containing election returns from election officer Marchel Sarno and had run upstairs.
Despojo said he and Badayos entered the City Hall together from the back entrance when an angry crowd at the foot of the stairs blocked them and announced that nobody from the media could enter.
Someone tried to pull Despojo’s backpack. He was thrown to the wall and was later pushed outside the building, while Badayos was thrust in front near the crowd.
Badayos was able to take one shot of an angry man approaching him before the melee started. When the mob grabbed the Sun.Star photographer’s computer bag and camera, Badayos waved both arms in the air and identified himself, “Sun.Star ko”. On hearing this, the people got agitated and assaulted him, accusing the paper of being biased against the Martinezes.
Despojo, who was wearing his press ID, was able to photograph the commotion before he was shoved outside the building.
Mayor Celestino Martinez Jr., who was upstairs during the commotion, later apologized for the incident.
“He is a friend, Kaila na nako, dugay na siya nakong kaila,” the mayor said of Badayos.
“For what happened to Badayos, I will apologize. I’m sorry it happened. It was just unfortunate that it happened.” He said it was difficult to identify the attackers because many people were around at the time.
Sun.Star’s editor in chief said what happened on Monday “was an unfortunate incident, a sad reflection of the way we conduct our politics and elections.”
Seares’ full statement read:
“The full story still has to come out but on these we are certain: Sun.Star photographer Alex Badayos was kicked and punched several times by men guarding the staircase of the Bogo City Hall. Badayos wanted to go up and see what was happening upstairs, and identified himself as “Media, Sun.Star.” A doctor’s examination will show later the extent of his physical injuries.
“His camera and his bag which contained a laptop were confiscated. Purposely, he did not wear his press card as he knew, based on his experience during the last election campaign, the sentiment of Mayor Martinez’s people against Sun.Star. His equipment plus the fact that he identified himself as a journalist should have served enough notice of his calling and the purpose of his presence at the Bogo City Hall. Besides, no person, journalist or not, can be justifiably mauled for being in a public building.
“Badayos did not touch any of the ballot boxes, as claimed by Mayor Martinez. He was far from the ballot boxes.
“If our photographer can identify his attackers from the photos he took, he, with the help of Sun.Star management, will file a complaint against those responsible for the attack.
“We are glad the mayor said he is sorry about the incident. He can do more: He can help identify the culprits and as mayor prevent a similar incident in the future.
“We are aware of the risks of a photojournalist or reporter at a scene of conflict. We just hope the incident will deter, instead of encourage, attacks on members of media while doing their job.”