WHETHER the rights of media practitioners were violated or not following their arrest and detention during last year’s Makati standoff was not the only issue at hand in the ruling issued by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) yesterday.

Central, too, was whether or not press freedom was curtailed by the actions of the state’s security forces.

In a 20-page resolution, the human rights body found that the “human rights of liberty, security of person and freedom from arbitrary arrest” of the journalists involved were violated. It was not as categorical, however, on the issue of press freedom violations, saying there was no “clear finding of repression or denial of freedom of the press.”

The act of the police operatives in arresting and detaining the media, the ruling read, does not seem to have been meant in any way to curtail press freedom.

Read more about the CHR resolution.

CHR, however, warned that acts to detain journalists without clear legal basis “dangerously stand astride the borderline between valid police power and media repression in violation of fundamental freedoms.”

Professor Luis Teodoro, deputy director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), found the CHR ruling problematic, saying that “It grants one thing, but takes another away.”

Hindi naman, pero malapit na (It [press freedom] wasn’t violated, but almost,)” said Teodoro, referring to the commission’s statement that the measures taken by the police and military in the incident constituted acts that “only just fall short of actual infringement on press freedom.”

“The ruling meant very little,” said Teodoro. “They (CHR) merely stated their opinion.”

He asserted that what is critical is the affirmation of press freedom, pointing out that the incident was the first time, even since the Martial Law period, that media members were treated with such severe restrictions.

Reminders to the media

CHR said that the responsibilities of government forces to safeguard the fundamental freedoms of the press “do not leave the members of the media completely free of their own responsibilities.”

CHR reminded the media that the right of the public to know is accompanied by the right of the public to a peaceful environment and society. “Let us remember that for every freedom, there is a corresponding responsibility. Respect for the police and the military and their role as protector of the people and the state is essential in any peace-loving country.”

The Commission cited that “the police line-ups and barricades set around the perimeter of hotel should have cautioned the media to leave them and do their coverage at a safer place.”

But Teodoro noted that CHR based this statement on wrong information. “The journalists were already with the group (Magdalo soldiers), he recalled. “There were no police barricades yet. It was only later on that the police set up (the barricades).”

As indicated in the same resolution under “The Facts,” media practitioners who were earlier covering the Makati Regional Trial Court hearing of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and his group’s case of rebellion, also joined the soldiers’ march to the hotel.

“Before noon, they (Magdalo soldiers) went inside the Manila Peninsula Hotel and stayed at the function room located at the second floor w(h)ere they were joined by more supporters, sympathizers, and media practitioners.”

Teodoro also questioned how the CHR defined “safer place” for journalists to do their coverage in its resolution.

‘Weak recommendations’

Based on its findings, the CHR led by chairperson Atty. Leila de Lima, made eight recommendations, which highlighted the referral of the case filed by the National Press Club (NPC) to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) for “internal inquiry and filing of possible administrative and disciplinary cases and measures.”

Press watchdog National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) found this move “wanting,” saying that the CHR should have recommended the filing of charges against those who violated the journalists’ rights, instead of “merely referring” the case to the departments (DILG and PNP).

NPC President Benny Antiporda, for his part, saw the situation as “half-baked,” pointing out that the recommendation was not strong enough. The filing of a case before the Office of the Ombudsman should have been recommended, he said.

CHR claimed that the DILG and PNP officials, “being the top officials of their respective offices,” are “in the best position” to ensure that the violations are “addressed and prevented from recurring in the future.”

The human rights body also referred the case to the Department of Justice (DOJ) “for further investigations and filing of proper cases as to violations of the Revised Penal Code and special laws on the rights of persons detained.”

Commented NUJP chairperson Jose Torres Jr. in a statement, “But how can we expect a fair investigation by the Justice department when no less than Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez prejudged the case when he issued an advisory urging media practitioners to ‘obey’ authorities when it comes to incidents like the Manila Pen standoff?”

Teodoro also added that even the class suit the CMFR filed, along with other media organizations including the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, was also dismissed.


Nonetheless, the CHR’s ruling also exposed its lack of “prosecutorial powers” which critics are now challenging.

Human rights lawyer Harry Roque said that the ruling showed how inutile the commission is. “It (ruling) only confirmed the popular belief that what transpired last year was wrong,” he said. “But it (ruling) doesn’t provide a viable legal remedy.”

Roque explained that the CHR has no quasi-judicial power — that it only performed as it is mandated under the Constitution. Thus, he recommended that the Commission’s mandate be amended to make it more effective in upholding human rights.

The NUJP, meanwhile, acknowledged that the human rights body has no prosecutorial powers, but said that a stronger recommendation could have been made for the prosecution of the violators.

Need for legislation

Commissioner De Lima also said that the legislature should pass a law on command responsibility in order to ensure the accountability of policemen and the military for any human rights violations committed during police or military operations and to regulate the rules of engagement with media during crisis situations.

She said that the PNP and government forces should review their “rules of engagement” or respective “standard operating procedures,” especially those that lay down the rules during crisis situations with specific guidelines on civilian and media engagement.

De Lima likewise recommended the police and military to refrain from uttering threats of arrests and future harm against media practitioners that undermine press freedom.

“Now we can see that the wheels of justice has been turned and we still have someone we can rely on in a situation(s) like this when there is grave abuse of authority,” NPC’s Antiporda said. “But the battle for the preservation of freedom and protection of human rights is not yet over.”

The Press Club is set to file an appeal for an amendment on the CHR’s recommendations, asserting that “those who made the violations should face the consequence of their actions.”

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