LAHAD DATU—Despite a reported ban on Filipino journalists by the Malaysian government, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and GMA 7 news teams here were accredited by the authorities on Wednesday, allowing them to cover the Sabah crisis.
The Inquirer and GMA 7 are the first Philippine news teams to cover the daily press conference conducted by Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib at the Felda Sahabat Residence Resort here.
The Filipino reporters were given permission to cover here by the Information, Communication and Culture Ministry of the Malaysian government on Tuesday.
On the same day, the Inquirer and GMA 7 were allowed to go to an evacuation center in the village of Embara Budi.
This was around the same time the Humanitarian and Consular Assistance Team from the Philippine Embassy was allowed by the Malaysian government to visit the Filipino evacuees and attend to their needs.
This was a far cry from the experience of Filipino journalists who came here earlier, just as the first shots were fired between the followers of the Sulu sultanate and the Malaysian security forces.
They had to go through tight security checkpoints and at times were asked to present their passports for identification. Some had their mug shots taken at police stations.
Presscon in Malay
At the press center—the Felda Sahabat resort lobby—the Inquirer and GMA 7 teams are working and getting along with Malaysian journalists.
A couple of them have become interpreters for the Filipinos, as the press conferences are conducted mainly in Malay. The Filipino and Malaysian journalists also share a table at the press center.
The Malaysian journalists have also become the Inquirer and GMA 7’s resource persons, such as confirming names of security officials as well as the villages mentioned during the press conferences.
The Filipino and Malaysian journalists also exchange notes, as well as banter while working.
During downtime on Wednesday, GMA 7 reporter Cedric Castillo poured a 3-in-1 coffee mix into his unrefrigerated bottled water, instead of having hot coffee in the searing heat.
This reporter followed suit. And minutes later, a Malaysian journalist did the same.
While authorities are more lenient as “Operation Sovereignty” entered its ninth day, restrictions remain imposed on journalists.
These included interviewing evacuees, venturing into the red zone, and roaming around the Felda Sahabat premises.
Journalists were told to always wear the regulation bright yellow reflectorized vests with “MEDIA” printed at the back to easily identify them as noncombatants.
A note outside the press center also reminds journalists to inform the public information officer here, a ranking police official, where they are headed, even if they are just returning to their hotels.
Nearly a hundred journalists, the majority of whom are from Malaysian news agencies, have swooped down on the resort, some having stayed since the start of the operation against the Sulu group.
Journalists staying at the resort hang their laundry outside the windows, with the need to wash clothes becoming imperative owing to the length of the stakeout.
Reporters waiting for updates from Hamza are oblivious to the beautiful view of the Celebes Sea, the beach, the manicured lawn with a colorful playground and the garden pool—all enjoyed by local tourists before violence erupted on this part of Sabah nearly two weeks ago.