Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ronnie Puno: Media wittingly or unwittingly obstructing justice

From the PDI Editorial:

As soon as Trillanes et al. signaled surrender, the police moved in to arrest everyone in sight, regardless of whether they were Magdalo soldiers or sympathizers or media people going about their business of reporting what was obviously a significant event. Then they tied up everyone with plastic tie wraps (except for a few feisty female reporters who refused to be subjected to such indignity) and herded them into buses that would later bring them to Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City. Some media men who stuck their hands out of the window to show to television cameras were hit with sticks. A few said the police pointed their guns at them.

What was their crime? None, police and civilian officials declared. Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno explained that there were reports that some Magdalo members or sympathizers had disguised themselves as members of the media and the police wanted to make sure they didn’t get away. So, he said, everyone was being taken to Bicutan for “processing” so that the authorities could determine if those who claimed they were from the media were indeed what they claimed to be.

Of course, the police cannot be expected to know each and every reporter, photographer or cameraman working for scores of media organizations based in Metro Manila. But unless someone does not watch the news on TV at all, he would surely know that Ces Drilon and Pinky Webb work for ABS-CBN Broadcasting and Sandra Aguinaldo for GMA Network. Their faces are their IDs, so why did the police have to confirm their identities in Bicutan? And why was it not good enough for the police that top station officials would vouch for the identities of the people assigned to cover the event?

If all that the police wanted was to check the media people’s identity, they could have done that right at the hotel by asking for everyone’s ID and calling the newsrooms to verify. But no, the police had to humiliate the media people and force them to go through the ordeal of being handcuffed and transported to Bicutan. Only to find out that their information about infiltration was wrong, since they found not a single impostor among the media people they had brought in for questioning.

But Puno himself hinted that there was a dark reason for the arrests other than identity checks, when he accused the media people of “wittingly or unwittingly, all of them, obstructing justice.” In other words, the administration suspected the journalists who covered the event of being part of the plot to topple Ms Arroyo. In fact, Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Avelino Razon is now threatening to charge the journalists present at the Manila Peninsula with obstruction of justice if they would file any charges against the policemen who hauled them off to Bicutan.

The media should call Razon’s bluff. Let’s see if he can find a friendly judge who will declare it a crime to cover breaking news. If the media will blink in the face of such intimidation, the Gestapos in the PNP and in MalacaƱang will continue to march in triumph, crushing under their heels everyone’s political rights and civil liberties.

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