Editorial: Little bosses and press freedom

·3 min read

Get the names of those who blocked and intimidated Rappler Cebu correspondent Lorraine Ecarma who was on coverage of the supposed release of the Bakwit 7 at the Central Visayas police headquarters in Cebu City on May 14, 2021. Call them out. These are lawbreakers roaming in the premises of a law enforcement agency. Sideshow barkers have no place where laws exist.

Ecarma was the lone reporter who was waylaid from the pack of journalists who were supposedly covering the release of Lumad teacher and activist Chad Booc, who was arrested along with seven others at the University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus in February on allegations that they kidnapped the lumad students. The police said the parents have complained of not having seen their children for a long time. The police arrest was worded as “rescue,” which some journalists earlier used.

The Davao del Norte Provincial Prosecutor had dismissed the complaints for kidnapping and serious illegal detention, human trafficking and child abuse for lack of evidence and lack of probable cause. Lawyer King Anthony Perez, spokesperson of the National Union of People’s Lawyers Cebu Chapter, presented a copy of the provincial prosecutor’s resolution to the Regional Special Operations Group 7. The actual release of the Bakwit 7 only happened at 6:30 a.m. of May 14, 2021.

Ecarma said non-uniformed personnel barred her at the headquarter gates. “At around 10:24 a.m., a personnel in green yelled and shoved me. He touched my arm and camera,” she said. While the other journalists were inside the premises already, Ecarma alone had to deal with these personnel, some of them taunting her that Rappler was “fake news.”

Two hours after, the journalist eventually was allowed entry, but only after a phone call with Lt. Col. Maria Aurora Rayos, the regional police’s public information chief. Rayos told Ecarma that it was a case of “miscommunication” and “lack of coordination,” reasons at once lame since other reporters were allowed entry as is true with beat journalists who cover routinely the police headquarters. Ecarma was singled out by a bunch of “workers” at the headquarters and not cops, according to Rayos. If such was the case, did these men receive instruction from officials or were these just a bunch of imaginative pedestrians who legislated instant rules to isolate Ecarma? Rappler said it “deplores the arbitrary exclusion” of one of its correspondents.

In a report by Ecarma’s media firm, PNP Chief Guillermo Eleazar said he spoke to Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Chief Brig. Gen. Ronnie Montejo about the incident. “That is not our policy,” Eleazar said.

We take the police chief’s word, but we’d rather that an investigation be done on the conduct of the men who blocked and intimidated Ecarma, who also had to wrestle for a chance to take images of the supposed release. This is crucial and most especially so when the police organization has been trying its best to win public perception amid criticisms of human rights violations and red-tagging. And most especially “red-tagging” in the case of Ecarma who was asked by one of those non-uniformed men why she was happy with Booc’s release and went on by saying the reporter would be seeing the Lumad teacher “in the mountains.”

The Cebu Federation of Beat Journalists (CFBJ) we hope will take offense at what is apparently a blatant assault against one of its own. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) was quicker to the draw, calling out authorities that “filming and documenting are vital parts of the job of journalists as legitimate sources of information and that documenting public events is neither illegal nor a security risk.” Again, the CFBJ must react if only to assert its relevance in a time when press freedom has been repeatedly threatened in recent times.

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