Bill exempting journos from acting as drug ops witnesses filed

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 16 2019 05:22 PM

Funeral workers use a stretcher to carry the body of a suspected drug pusher, whom police investigators said was shot and killed by unidentified men, along a street in Quezon City, March 1, 2017. Romeo Ranoco, Reuters/File

MANILA - Lawmakers from the opposition Makabayan bloc has filed a bill seeking to exempt journalists from acting as witnesses in anti-drug operations.

House Bill No. 8832 was authored by ACT Teachers Party-list Representatives Antonio Tinio and France Castro, Gabriela Party-list Representatives Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas, Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao and Anakbayan Party-list Rep. Sarah Jane Elago.

Currently, police require journalists to join anti-drug operations as witnesses or else they could be denied access, Tinio said. 

"Mayroong banta sa [pag]-exercise [ng] media ng kanilang profession, may threat to freedom of the press. Na-expose to danger ang media dahil ma-involve sila directly sa kaso," he said.

(There is a threat to how the media exercise their profession, there is a threat to freedom of the press. They are exposed to danger because they are directly involved in the case.)

In the bill's explanatory note, the authors said that while media witnesses are optional, journalists throughout the country report that law enforcement units continue requiring them to sign on as witnesses often as a condition for being allowed to cover anti-drug operations. 

“Worse, there are reports that they are made to sign even if they did not actually witness the operation or inventory of seized items. Journalists who decline can find their sources or their normal channels of information no longer accessible," they said.

The authors said this opens journalists to retaliation from drug syndicates.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines have an ongoing campaign against the police practice.