MANILA — Filipino security escorts of U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas harassed and manhandled media men conducting an ambush interview with the envoy at the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] Medical Center in Quezon City.

Thomas’ escorts are not personnel of the AFP.

They are “outsourced” or contractuals hired by the U.S. Embassy, just like guards posted at the main gate of the embassy on Roxas Boulevard.

Press attaché Rebecca Thompson said in a statement:

“We respect the importance of an open and free media and we know members of the media equally respect the importance of personal security for all, including ambassadors in this country. At an event at V. Luna General Hospital, the U.S. Ambassador’s security team performed its prime function of ensuring a secure and safe environment for all. It is regrettable, however, that a misunderstanding and commotion took place.”

Thomas was at the military hospital for the inauguration of the Polarity and Molecular Laboratory which was renovated under the U.S. Biosecurity Engagement Program and Armed Forces Health Surveillance program.

Thomas, accompanied by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, agreed to an interview with media as he was heading for his car after the ceremony.

He was already answering questions about corruption in the military when his Filipino security escorts numbering at least five and wearing blue barong came into the picture and shoved cameramen.

One of the escorts put his arm on the throat of TV 5 assistant cameraman Eddie Mendoza to push the latter away from the ambassador.

Another escort pushed TV 5 cameraman Benjie Judan while blocking the lens of his camera.

“We meant no harm to the ambassador. We know our limits. We just wanted to take a good shot (of Thomas)...with my partner, Eddie Mendoza, who was chopped in the neck while being shoved,” said Judan.

A female TV reporter complained, “I was holding the mike, fronting the ambassador when the rude guy in blue (barong) pushed us while the ambassador was answering our questions,” she said.

She said a female security of Thomas then told her to back off.

A military colonel, apparently detailed with the AFP Medical Center, blocked the path of another cameraman and threatened him with harm if moved closer to the ambassador.

A male TV reporter cursed and blurted, “We are in the Philippines!”

Thomas reacted but just said, “No profanity,” then boarded his vehicle which was encircled by military personnel.

TV 5 reporter Erel Cabatbat said, “We were treated as if we are terrorists who are out to kill the ambassador.”

Dona Pazibugan, president of the Defense Press Corps, said: “They (escorts of Thomas) have no reason to manhandle us because we are not terrorists, NPA or anti-U.S. activists.”

Security was tight at the military hospital even before Thomas arrived.

Visitors were made to take a longer route so they would not pass the front of the hospital where soldiers provided arrival honors.

A military officer also castigated a female reporter who came in late for the ceremony held at the hospital auditorium.

The irked reporter said the officer, who she identified as one Lt. Col. Quijano, shouted at her, “You’re late!”

She said the officer then told her that the main door was closed because the program had already started, before telling her to take the other door.

She said the officer should have politely guided her.

Lt. Cmdr. Jerome Rommel Ochoco, spokesman of the AFP Medical Center, apologized to the media “on behalf of our officers and command.”

Ochoco went to Camp Aguinaldo to meet defense reporters.

He arrived in an ambulance.

He is confined at the AFP Medical Center for a kidney ailment.

He said he asked permission from his doctors to go out of the hospital just to talk with the media about the incident.

Ochoco said the security personnel were just probably doing their job, noting that there was not supposed to be a media interview before oir after the ceremony.

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