MANILA– Despite the imminent and present danger to their lives, droves of intrepid journalists both local and foreign, rushed to faraway Marawi City when fighting broke out between government forces and the Maute terrorist group last May 23.
One of them was veteran broadcaster, Benjie Liwanag of radio station DZBB, who was sent by his media outfit to cover a blow-by-blow account of the fighting which to date has killed 228 terrorists, 59 soldiers and 37 civilians, many of them through executions.
The war has displaced tens of thousands of residents the past 27 days, not discounting the possibility of more infrastructures destroyed in the coming days if the fighting continues.
The presence of the media persons from print, radio and television presented in real time the gun battles between government forces and the Maute group and their allies – the Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
There are reports that foreign-looking terrorists have participated in the fighting, including as snipers.
With today’s modern technology, citizens across the country can hear over the radio or witness on televisions right in their living rooms, the fighting, including “surgical airstrikes” at terrorists holed out in tall and concrete buildings in Marawi City.
Liwanag was no stranger covering a war. He covered the bloody Zamboanga siege mounted by elements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 2013.
Other Manila-based journalists, who went to Marawi City were Jim Gomez of the Associated Press (AP), Sandra Aguinaldo, Jun Veneracion, Macky Pulido, and Emil Sumangil all of Channel 7.
Chiara Zambrano, Jeff Canoy, George Cariňo, and Rod Galacgac of ABS-CBN TV/DZMM radio and Ed Estabillo, to name a few.
Liwanag said that more than 80 journalists are covering the on-going war in Marawi where tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes to avoid being caught in the crossfire.
In an interview with this writer, Liwanag said that he stayed for three weeks in Marawi City before he was given a break by DZBB management to return to Manila for a respite as a war correspondent.
Despite the dangers he and other reporters have to face, day in and day out, rain or shine, Benjie went out of his way to report live over DZBB or Channel 7 every time there was a fighting between government forces and Maute terrorists or airstrikes conducted by planes and helicopter gunships of the Air Force.
In many instances, he ignored his personal safety, as he tailed behind government forces assaulting Maute terrorists’ hideouts in the city.
“I always pray to God for my protection,” Benjie said during the interview, and tears in his eyes as he emotionally recalled “how our soldiers have made their great sacrifice, risking their lives in defending the country from terrorists’ attacks.”
“I salute our brave soldiers and I also pray for them,” Benjie said. “After my break for a few days, I will go back to Marawi to continue my coverage.”
Like the raw courage of the soldiers, journalists covering the Marawi fighting are dubbed as the fearless war correspondents whose mission is to broadcast and write the truth of what is happening in the war zone for the public to be apprised in real time right in the comfort of their homes and for posterity. BEN CAL/PNA – northboundasia.com