Tulfo had just arrived from Davao on Sunday morning when he heard a woman berating a Cebu Pacific ground staff for “her mishandled luggage.”
He said he initially sympathized with the angry woman because he had been writing about the issue in past columns.
He went to the airline’s complaints desk and pulled out his mobile phone to document the incident, the photos he hoped to use as part of a future column. But as he was taking photos, a man approached him and instructed him to surrender the phone.
Tulfo refused and he was mauled by the man, whom he later learned to be Raymart Santiago, and several others who reportedly were the actor’s companions.
A clip of the brawl has been uploaded on the video-sharing website YouTube and passed around the social networking site Facebook.
It showed Tulfo, wearing a khaki vest, being grabbed in a headlock by a man in a grey shirt while another man in a pink shirt threw overhand rights at the columnist.
Barretto was heard screaming and joining the melee, and looked like she kicked and slapped Tulfo as he was being held down.
One account hosting the video at YouTube garnered more than 800,000 hits.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said there was nothing wrong in taking photographs of Barretto giving an airline staff a dressing down.
“Barretto and her husband are celebrities and are, thus, public figures. They were also in a public place and were involved in a commotion making the incident legitimate for coverage,” the NUJP said in a statement.
NUJP chairman Nestor Burgos Jr. said Tulfo was also right in not handing over his phone. “No one has the right to forcibly take a person’s camera or phone, especially of a journalist documenting a public incident.”
The National Press Club (NPC) described the beating of Tulfo as an attack on press freedom.
Malacañang said airport authorities were looking into the circumstances that led to the brawl.
But the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) indicated it would not conduct a formal inquiry.
MIAA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado said his office was “not competent to determine and we’re not mandated to determine the guilty party in the incident at NAIA Terminal 3.”
A black eye was all the evidence that Inquirer columnist and radio host Ramon Tulfo brought to the Prosecutor’s Office on Monday.
Tulfo filed grave coercion and physical injury charges against show-biz couple Raymart Santiago and Claudine Barretto and six others who ganged up on him at the airport on Sunday in what netizens billed “Thrilla in NAIA.”
Wearing the same vest he had on during the attack, Tulfo said he decided to press charges against the Santiagos because of the mauling he received from the group.
Despite being outnumbered, “I did not back down,” said Tulfo.
“I would have charged this to experience,” he told the Inquirer after filing the complaint in the Pasay City Prosecutor’s Office. “But the cussing I received from her (Claudine} changed my mind. Besides, this should serve as a lesson to them to respect lowly people (maliliit na tao).
“Inalipusta niya yung pobreng empleyado (She ridiculed the poor employee),” he said.
He showed reporters the mouse under his right eye, which he said had been operated on last year. He also said that he was still feeling pain in the nape.
His lawyer, Mario General, said the degree of the charge against those who assaulted his client could be amended in the coming days when results of the medical exam on Tulfo shall have been released.
Tulfo, a martial arts expert, said he never figured in brawls such as the one he got into on Sunday because of his knowledge in self-defense.
But it appeared that facing several aggressors at the same time rendered his training of little use on that occasion.