PHILIPPINES: Who were the massacred journalists? – Part 1 

One of the journalists worked for over two decades

Before the advent of electronic mail, high speed internet connections, and mobile phones, all part of the technology used in transmitting information that we now take for granted, Alejandro Reblando, Bong, to his friends and colleagues, was an eyewitness to what was happening in Mindanao. Indeed, he was not just an eyewitness but was very much a part of the stories he reported on. For two decades Bong Reblando collected exclusive stories and fearlessly reported on them in the worst of conditions. Alejandro Bong Reblando was one of the 30 journalists slaughtered in the Maguindanao massacre on November 23.

In this photo:
Manila Bulletin (MB) reporter Bong M. Reblando (2nd from left) smiles in this undated file photo taken during a past Saudi Arabian national day celebration in Makati City/ from the Manila Bulletin

Fifty-four-year-old Bong Reblando was no neophyte. At the time of his death, he was writing for the Manila Bulletin, a national daily newspaper. He spent many years writing for them as a correspondent before they absorbed him as regular staff in 2008 based in General Santos City.

He began his professional career in the early 1980s as a broadcaster and reporter for dxCP, a Catholic-run radio station in General Santos City. In those days, only a few local radio stations were broadcasting. dxCP was once one of the more popular radio stations. It was where the residents turned for news and current affairs, not only within the city but also in neighbouring provinces and municipalities of South Cotabato.

Bong Reblando knew the very fabric of the inside stories and how violent it could get covering local elections. He was a stringer for the Associated Press (AP), an American news agency, from late 1980s to early the 2000s covering the southern Philippines. He also wrote for and edited stories for numerous community newspapers in General Santos City, one of which was the Mindanao Bulletin that began publication in 1985.

In this country’s troubled region, it was very easy for journalists like Bong and his colleagues to become desensitized in covering the often violent stories from the conflict areas. Their compassion and commitment to their work dictated that they had to be not just onlookers but actually part of the story. These were the types of stories and places that they had to cover and they never shirked the responsibility. They received satisfaction, not only from reporting the news, but by having the authority of saying: I was there!

Bong Reblando was a veteran and had personal experience of covering election-related violence. He had also covered the protracted war in conflict affected areas in Mindanao, numerous kidnapping cases and bomb blasts.

With their years of experience Bong and his group did not take lightly the potential danger of reporting on the November 23 would-be filing of the Certificate of Candidacy (CoC) by the wife of a local politician, Ismael Mangudadatu in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao. They discussed thoroughly the security arrangements and only after they got the assurance from a local top military commander that it was safe for them to go did they proceed.

Amongst his contemporaries, Alejandro Bong Reblando was known for never running out of steam when working in the field and writing exclusive stories, both for the Filipino people and the world.

To see one’s name in a newspaper headline is, perhaps petty to others, but it is what motivates the local journalist to do well in their profession. Bong Reblando surpassed many of his contemporaries, who either relocated to other places or retired.

‘He told me the area is cleared’

It was Bong who spoke with Alfredo Cayton, commanding General of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID), asking his opinion as to whether it was safe for the group to proceed. Cayton told him that they could and the area where their convoy would be passing through has been cleared of any possible danger. This is what Bong told a colleague who survived the massacre.

According to his newspaper, Bong considered Cayton as his friend. In this part of the country journalists have to befriend top military and police commanders, not only to establish good working relationships and as sources of news, but also as a form of protection. However, when it comes to reporting on military personnel, police officers and government officials who are abusive and corrupt these journalists will not hesitate to burn their bridges.

Bong Reblando’s body was found hog-tied inside the vehicle of Henry Araneta, a reporter for dzRH radio, who was also killed during the massacre. Bong was killed by a shotgun blast and his body was among the most badly mutilated corpses.

Covering violence: elections, kidnappings and bomb blasts

In 1995, during the election for mayor in Palembang, Sultan Kudarat, about two hours from General Santos City, Bong Reblando and another colleague (who survived the Maguindanao massacre), had to stay there for a week to cover a brewing confrontation between two powerful and bitter rival clans in local politics. At that time hardly any journalist covered election violence in the area of southern Mindanao.

Bong’s wife, Myrna, had to travel to Palembang to take him back to the city with her. His relatives and his colleagues were worried because they had no idea of what had happened to them. The two could not be contacted as there were no mobile phones in those days.

In 2001, Reblando made extensive coverage of the kidnapping of Chinese engineers in Carmen, North Cotabato. While one kidnap victim was later released, two of his companions were killed by the abductors. The kidnapping was a huge story as it involved the diplomatic relationship between China and the Philippines. Reblando was one of those who produced a blow by blow account of the kidnapping case.

For most of his adult and professional life, Reblando covered the decades-old conflict in Mindanao. The protracted war between the Moro rebels and the government forces, the frequent bombings, hostage-taking, and the like. They were all stories that could not escape from his notice.

From phone lines to computers

In those days to be able to send their stories to their outlets in Manila, Bong Reblando had to dictate his story, written at the end of the day’s work, by phone from a local telecommunications office to the news desk. There were many times when he and his fellow local journalists were crowding the office, each waiting for their turn at the telephone.

It was only after the fax messaging technology was introduced that Bong Reblando and his colleagues began sending their stories in writing. Instead of making phone calls, they started making use of typewriters to type their stories and then send them by fax. This is how his employers at the Manila Bulletin and the intentional wire agencies to whom he was sending stories receive his work.

Some of the stories that Bong wrote may still be read online.

Alejandro Bong Reblando is survived by his wife, Myrna and seven children.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-065-2009
Countries : Philippines,
Campaigns : Maguindanao Massacre