30 reporters held, probed, released
MANILA, Philippines -- It was an unwelcome surprise for nearly 30 reporters and cameramen inside the Manila Peninsula in Makati City after a police assault ended the tension-filled occupation of the hotel by rebel soldiers at 6:30 Thursday night.
The journalists simply could not refuse the “invitation” and were hauled onto a bus that brought them to the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) headquarters at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, for questioning at 9 p.m.
Earlier in the day, Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza said the government was monitoring all media broadcasts of the hotel standoff. Police even asked the broadcast stations not to show their assault positions in front of the hotel.
The National Union of Journalist of the Philippines (NUJP) deplored the detention of the media practitioners as “a blatant attack on the media’s right to exercise its profession.”
“Journalists are there just to do their job and inform our public. That is protected by the Constitution,” Joe Torres, NUJP chair, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) in a phone interview.
The detained journalists included Inquirer reporters Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. and DJ Yap; radio dzBB’s Lito Laparan; Malaya’s Ashzel Hachero and Ellen Tordesillas; Manila Times’ James Galvez; Manila Bulletin’s Kris Bayos and Leonard Postrado; radio dzMM’s Noel Alamar; Newsbreak’s Jesus Ilanto; Sandra Aguinaldo of GMA 7; Sharmaine Deogracias of NHKTV; Ces Drilon and Pinky Webb of ABS-CBN, and others regularly covering the Makati beat.
But the Philippine National Police gave assurances that no members of media were going to be arrested.
NCRPO chief Director Geary Barias said all media persons who covered the hotel siege would be held and brought to Bicutan for investigation.
Footage from ABS-CBN showed media members being led into a PNP bus to be brought to Bicutan. Some showed their wrists bound by plastic tie wraps.
PNP Director General Avelino Razon said he had received reports that some Magdalo members had posed as members of media.
“Once we establish that they are really members of media, then they would be released,” he said.
Chief Supt. Samuel Pagdilao, PNP spokesperson, said the media members would be “processed” as part of the police investigation into the hotel occupation by rebel soldiers led by Sen. Antonio Trillianes IV and Army Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim. The two walked out of a Makati courtroom in the morning and demanded the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“We want to know if any member of Trillanes’ group mixed with members of media. Sometimes that is being done,” Pagdilao said. “Technically, they are witnesses and we want to ask them about what happened. That would contribute to the investigation.”
He said handcuffing the journalists was part of “standard operating procedure.”
The Inquirer’s Cabacungan, however, said “the police were shouting at us when we were going out. They were ordering us to keep our hands up.”
“They threatened to confiscate the cameras, handcuffed some of us with plastic. They took pictures with their digicams and videocams. Some were in shorts,” he said.
Some reporters and cameramen were unable to leave the hotel after the 3 p.m. deadline for Trillanes and his followers to give up. The front entrance was locked, forcing them to take cover in rooms and dampening pieces of cloth as protection against tear gas.
The first “rescue operation” was conducted at around 5:30 p.m. after the assault team pumped in tear gas and crashed an armored personnel carrier through the front door. It destroyed the entrance and caused the lobby’s carpet to catch fire.
2 media groups
The journalists were separated into two groups at that time: The big group accompanying Trillanes to a room on the second floor’s left wing, while the small one huddled at the right wing open balcony.
Police officers in assault gear and gas masks rushed up the second floor to usher the reporters and cameramen to safety.
But outside the hotel’s entrance, media members were told that they would be temporarily held and brought to Bicutan.
Pagdilao said the PNP would look into reports some members of its Special Action Force (SAF) pointed their high-powered firearms at mediamen.
He said there was definitely no crackdown on media.
“We want to assure our friends that there is no intention to crack down on media,” he said.
Senate President Manuel Villar decried the “unreasonable and rough treatment accorded to the media who were carrying out their duties and risking their lives in covering the Makati incident.”
“This conduct clearly violates the rights of media practitioners and makes a mockery of the implementation of our laws,” he added.
Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan condemned the “illegal, reckless and unwarranted” detention.
“This latest attack against the press reflects the deplorable condition of journalism practitioners in particular and of human rights in general in this country,” Pangilinan said in a statement.
“It is not just an attack against journalists. It is, first and foremost, an attack against the constitutional right of the people to free speech. It is censorship in its purest form. It is prior restraint. The chilling effect created by this latest assault on journalists is not just an attack on the people’s right to free speech but is also a blow on our rule of law and democracy.” With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. and Dona Z. Pazzibugan
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