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HK newsmen heckle PNoy; axed at APEC

Bali -- President Benigno Aquino III was pestered by three Hong Kong journalists before a plenary meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit here in Nusa Dua on Sunday afternoon over a botched rescue attempt that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead at the Rizal Park in Manila in  2010. Aquino was walking from the holding room to the plenary hall at the Bali International Convention Center when the three journalists started shouting at him and attempted to shove their microphones in front of him. The reporters had been inquiring about  Grandstand on Aug. 23, 2010, when dismissed police officer Rolando Mendoza took over a bus full of Hong Kong tourists, killing 20 of them and injuring another seven before he himself was killed by responding policemen. “Will you meet CY Leung?” one of the reporters asked, referring to Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying who is also attending the APEC Summit. “Can you give an answer? Why don’t you respond to Hong Kong officials?” shouted another Hong Kong reporter. “Will you apologize? This has been three years,” another journalist said. Still, the incident lasted less than a minute as some members of the APEC organizing committee quickly stepped in to stop the reporters from Radio Television Hong Kong, Now TV and Commercial Radio. The President appeared calm throughout the incident, talking to forum moderator Linda Yueh while the reporters kept shouting at him. The members of the APEC organizing committee scolded the Hong Kong reporters. “You know that decency does not include screaming. You do understand that. Now get out,” said a female senior staff member to the reporters whose APEC identification cards were confiscated and whose accreditations for the summit coverage were eventually revoked. A male Hong Kong reporter tried to reason out, saying: “I am just asking him. I am not screaming.” But another member of the organizing committee quickly cut him off, saying they ambushed a guest of Indonesia and that they should leave the BICC premises immediately. Presidential Communications Development Secretary Ramon Carandang said the Hong Kong journalists crossed the line between aggressive questioning and outright heckling. “As a former journalist, I know what it’s like to aggressively question a subject,” Carandang said. “The behavior of those reporters crossed the line from mere questioning to heckling and was even construed by the Indonesian security personnel assigned to the President as a potential physical threat to him, so they took what they believed was appropriate action,” Carandang said. “There’s a line that can be crossed… The President was accosted very rudely and aggressively and the Indonesian security deemed it to be excessive and they took action to prevent them from getting too close to the President,” Carandang added. According to Gatot Dewa Broto, public relations chief of the Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, the actions of the Hong Kong journalists had been “improper.” He noted that the reporters appeared to be “protesting” and not merely asking questions, thus their press badges were deactivated to deny them access to the media center and to the venues being used for the APEC Summit. He said the press badges of nine Hong Kong journalists had been deactivated. They were free to remain in Bali but could not gain access to the media center or to the venues being used for the summit. Sham Yee-lan, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association, said the reporters’ actions were justified because the Aquino’s government had “yet to provide a satisfactory explanation” for the death of the eight tourists in 2010. “The barring of the media for asking critical questions is an outright infringement of press freedom that is totally unacceptable,” she said in a statement from Hong Kong. But Carandang said the issue had already been addressed repeatedly by the Aquino administration, including making a formal apology as well as offering compensation to the families of the victims. He also denied reports that the Philippines exerted pressure for the revocation of the press badges of the Hong Kong media. “We are not the organizing committee here. We don’t call the shots. We are guests too,” Carandang said. He made his statement even as presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda on Monday said the Philippine government wasn’t keen on declaring a persona non grata a Hong Kong reporter who screamed at President Aquino to avoid creating tensions between Hong Kong and Manila. But Lacierda agreed with Carandang’s comment that the three Hong Kong reporters’ actions were “bordering on rudeness.” “We Filipinos don’t shout our questions,” Lacierda told reporters in Malacañang. “We observe protocol, we observe the proper way of interviewing any person, especially heads of state.” Meanwhile, Carandang said the issues on the alleged misuse of the Filipino lawmakers’ pork barrel appropriations and the MILF’s deadly rampage in Zamboanga City had not dampened the confidence of foreign investors in the Philippines. Aquino met with the captains of industry on Monday, when he made a pitch for more investment in Asia including the Philippines. “I don’t think [those incidents] have affected the way we present ourselves or the way the international community sees us,” Carandang said. With Sara Susanne D. Fabunan
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