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Radio reporter rebuked for 'obstructing' hostage negotiations

Erwin Tulfo, the radio reporter who interviewed hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza during the crucial moments of the crisis, received more rebukes on Wednesday from members of the official body probing the August 23 hostage tragedy, with a stern reminder that he may have violated Philippine broadcasters' own code of conduct. On Wednesday, the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) grilled broadcast journalist Erwin Tulfo, a television anchor at TV-5 and radio reporter at Radyo Mo Nationwide (RMN). During the final moments leading to the bloodbath, Tulfo and RMN anchor Michael Rogas took turns speaking with Mendoza, who was declaring his threats to shoot the hostages if Manila policemen did not stop arresting his brother, SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza. Policemen earlier testified that they could no longer reach Mendoza because the communication lines were blocked. IIRC member Teresita Ang-See castigated them again for supposedly giving Mendoza an avenue to grandstand because Rogas kept repeating that the interview "is heard worldwide." "You did not call it an interference or an obstruction that you tied up the open line of the hostage-taker for almost one hour?" asked Ang-see.

Tulfo replied: "I don't think so Ma'am, because I believe there were more than enough lines in that situation." He later admitted that he was "not aware" that the line RMN used to reach the hijacker was the one the police attempted to use. Tulfo also justified the call because during that hour, negotiations bogged down and Mendoza refused to speak with chief negotiator Superintendent Orlando Yebra. However, Ang-See asked, "So that gave you a right to give him the arena for grandstanding?" Tulfo responde,: "No, Ma'am, it doesn't give us the right, I believe what we did is that we're also doing our job." 'Heard all over the world' Ang-See's rebuked him, saying, "All throughout the audio, which we all heard (last Tuesday), you heard Michael Rogas kept on repeating this is being aired globally. Didn't you realize that it is obstruction because you are giving him the arena to play up what he wanted, which the police did not want to happen," she said. However, Tulfo replied that he was not aware that Rogas repeatedly told Mendoza that the radio interview was being heard worldwide. "I did not stay on the phone for several hours," he said. Ang-See also said RMN could have obstructed the negotiation process because Rogas "kept buttiing in" during the time that Mendoza rejected the Ombudsman's letter and Yebra made an offer to talk to his police superiors to reinstate the hostage-taker into police service. "During the interview during the most critical time, Yebra was trying to calm down Mendoza by offering to talk to his bosses. But Rogas kept butting in and diverting the focus of Mendoza, so he probably didn't hear what Yebra was trying to offer. Is that not interference at all?" Ang-See asked. Tulfo, however, laid the blame on Yebra, whom he said was not at the negotiators' desk when Mendoza aired his threats to kill the hostages. Ang-See then cited Yebra's testimony that during that time, he talked to his superiors to suspend the dismissal order against Mendoza. Grandstanding Ang-See then said that if RMN did not even attempt to interview Mendoza and ask him what he would do [Rogas kept asking 'Ano po ang plano niyo?'], the hostage-taker would not have the opportunity to come up with the idea to kill the hostages. "You did not think... that you did not cause Mendoza to fire? If there was nobody on the phone, he made the threat openly to media.. If he had no arena, he knew na walang nakakaranig sa kanya. You don't think there was no chance that he would have done it?" Ang-See asked. Tulfo then said despite the radio interview, Mendoza was "resigned" to killing the hostages because he saw how his brother was being arested. "That was what triggered the man to go crazy. Before the live coverage, he was calm, he was pacified, but he was not very angry. He was so calm, the only incident that triggered is that his brother is being manhandled, and that is what ticked the guy," said Tulfo. Ratings Tulfo also said the media is sometimes driven to "scoop" rival networks and to snag exclusive interviews and assignments. However, he did not mention that throughout RMN's interview with Mendoza, the plug "RMN Exclusive!" was played several times. "The media, in some aspect did not do their job. The broadcast media, the ratings po kasi, exclusivity eh. Yung makakuha ng exclusive report and then yung ratings, yung mga bagay na yun. There's a lot of things that need to be looked at, from the management's handling [of the] the hostage crisis, and then ang (police) operatives natin," Tulfo said. Earlier in the interview, Tulfo admitted that he made the initiative to speak with Mendoza twice. The first one was turned down by the policemen, while the second was through RMN. Tulfo said that he wanted to speak with Mendoza because the police spokesman, Chief Inspector Erwin Margarejo, was giving limited information. However, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima questioned Tulfo's move and reminded him that the police could have deliberately limited the information for security purposes. "Didn't it occur to you that the withholding of the information of the authorities was purposeful because that was what the protocol required?" asked De Lima. Tulfo replied, "RMN called Mendoza to find out if the hostages were okay." KBP Code For his part, review committee member Roan Libarios reminded Tulfo of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas' (KBP's) Broadcast Code which discourages efforts that could obstruct authorities' handling of a hostage crisis where danger is already present or imminent. Section 1, Article 6 of the Code says: "The coverage of crimes in progress or crisis situations such as hostage-taking or kidnapping shall not put lives in greater danger than what is already inherent in the situation. Such coverage should be restrained and care should be taken so as not to hinder or obstruct efforts of authorities to resolve the situation." Another portion reads: "A coverage should avoid inflicting undue shock and pain to families and loved ones of victims of crimes, crisis situations, disasters, accidents, and other tragedies." — RSJ/VVP, GMANews.TV