Taking the sting out

Taking the sting out

Indiablooms photo courtesy

There was a seemingly programmed reaction to the recent unanticipated weekend house visits by police to residences of journalists – chiefly print, broadcast, and news agencies – from anxiety to indignation to irritability to understandable wrath.

The way it was carried out, in parts of Metro Manila, did leave a most unprofessional demeanor on the part of the police, some were not in their uniforms, and all did not properly coordinate with either the journalists’ news organizations or their respective local government units.

That the house visits were done apparently to address what may be security inadequacies among journalists following the slaying days earlier of broadcaster Percy Lapid did not at all conciliate the intention, however good it may have been.

Good thing Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos has apologized after the police visits were damned by many in the fourth estate, admitting that while the move was “coming from good faith… it created panic.”

Abalos’ apology followed that of the acting director of the Eastern Police District in the National Capital Region Police Office after media persons complained of privacy violations as cops visited their homes

For some in the media, the visits had a chilling effect such that they did not know how their addresses were known by the police and why there was a need for the cops to interview them at home.

The apologies should lay to rest this matter especially as authorities have vowed to order their personnel to reach out to journalists in less threatening ways like by contacting their news organizations.

We cannot fathom the good intention of the police, since Camp Crame authorities had said there was no direct order to lower echelons from headquarters to make those unannounced house visits.

If the plainclothes policemen who undertook the visitations did not identify themselves in trying to talk to the journalists, then they should be reprimanded at the very least.

We give a hand to law enforcers wanting to secure members of the media, but, to borrow the words of Senator Jinggoy Estrada, the execution, which appears to be without a direct order from higher authorities, is “stupid and contemptible.”

What is galling at this point is the “home visits” were done by some, save an isolated few – by men not in uniform and were not coordinated with the journalists’ employers and the local government units that have jurisdiction over the journalists.

Let’s hear it from Senator Estrada: “And the most glaring of all, how could they get hold of very personal and sensitive information such as a home address of a journalist? I can see the sense in this move of the PNP but its execution is rather contemptible. It’s the most stupid idea, I must say.”

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian also expressed similar sentiments regarding the incident: “How did the PNP get access to the reporter’s private information?”

We strongly feel that police and other law enforcement agents must know how to properly enforce laws and not violate these, appearing as it does now, absent any contrary explanation, that the PNP violated the Data Privacy Act and they should answer for this.

Senator Estrada is correct that the unannounced and uncoordinated “home visits” of PNP personnel to some journalists last Saturday were a clear violation of the Data Privacy Act.

“It’s the most stupid idea, I must say. If they really wanted to know who among the journalists has been receiving death threats, the news organizations with which they are affiliated should be the first ones they have contacted,” Estrada said.

The quick-witted reaction of the Philippine National Police, while admitting they would release specific guidelines on how police officers should reach out to media practitioners, submits a boisterous boo-boo with the PNP spokesman admitting there was no direct order from Camp Crame nor from the regional director.

The guidelines should be released immediately, with copies forwarded to media organizations and LGUs, including, where necessary, the barangay levels.

PNP spokesperson Colonel Jean Fajardo said the only instruction relayed to headquarters was to coordinate with media personalities and find out if they had been receiving threats following the killing of broadcaster Percy Lapid.

There was no instruction for the police to go to the residences of journalists to ask if they had been threatened.

Fajardo said the police had no database on the addresses of media practitioners, and they were only able to find out addresses by asking barangay officials.

“Normally, maybe even non-media practitioners, any ordinary person would feel threatened if someone claiming to be a police officer in civilian attire goes to them, Fajardo had said.

National Capital Region Police chief Brig. Gen. Jonnel Estomo had ordered a halt to the house visits after several journalists aired their concerns over the incidents, pointing out that it was a violation of the Data Privacy Act.

“Though we only had good intentions in this endeavor, I personally apologize to all our media friends, and an investigation is already in place pertaining to the incident,” he was quoted as saying in a report on GMA’s “24 Oras Weekend” on Sunday.

Fajardo said PNP Chief General Rodolfo Azurin Jr. had also ordered an investigation into the matter, and corrective measures would be implemented against anyone found to be liable.

Some may appear to have balls of fire. But let’s behave properly. (ai/mtvn)

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