The Integrated Bar of the Philippines takes notice of the alarming arrest of journalists covering the protest actions of farmers and artists.
In a recent press briefing, PNP Officer-in-Charge Lt. Gen. Danao Jr. accused the members of the press of agitating the activist groups during the protest, asking: “what is [their] purpose”? They were then swiftly charged with malicious mischief and illegal assembly alongside the persons they were covering.
Journalists and other members of the press enjoy a wide latitude of discretion in investigating and reporting news relating to public affairs. Any intrusion into this liberty of speech and of the press risks depriving the public of crucial knowledge of government affairs. Indeed, without these rights, “no vigilant press would flourish. And without a vigilant press, the government’s mistakes would go unnoticed, their abuses unexposed, and their wrongdoings uncorrected.” (Tulfo v. People, G.R. No. 187113, January 11, 2021).
A heavy-handed approach to the charge of illegal assembly guts the freedom to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.
As well, the practice of affiliating journalists by virtue of their mere presence at events of public interest is questionable. Journalists should not have to run the risk of arrest and criminal charges when they are discharging the constitutionally-protected duties of covering and reporting on matters of public consequence, such as land reform disputes.
Zeal in law enforcement is always welcome. But it must be equal. If any leniency is to be dispensed then, let it be for the poor and the downtrodden, not to entitled individuals with a documented history for reckless imprudence. Lately, we see more compassion for the latter, rather than the former.
Respect for constitutional rights is illusory if they do not apply to all. And strict adherence to due process should be the norm, not dependent on affluence or political leanings.