Int’l group slams DOJ threat

Published by rudy Date posted on January 14, 2008

MANILA, Philippines — A New York-based media watchdog on Sunday called on the Philippine government to withdraw a threat to prosecute journalists who get in the way of police operations.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that reporters in the politically volatile Philippines had long covered “dangerous emergencies without the threat of being charged as criminals.”

“We urge the government to withdraw this advisory,” the group’s Asia coordinator, Bob Dietz, said in a statement.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said he had no intention of recalling the media advisory he issued on Friday. “I’m sorry, I will not withdraw it,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).

He stressed that media practitioners were not being stopped from reporting on emergencies. “Nobody’s preventing them from covering. They can cover. They can do what they want,” he said.

In his advisory, Gonzalez warned all media outfits that reporters, photographers and cameramen “may incur criminal liabilities” if they disobeyed lawful orders from authorities during emergencies.

Failure by journalists to clear an area when ordered to do so by police amounted to “obstruction of justice,” he said.

The warning followed a bitter row between the government and the press stemming from the coverage of a brief takeover of the Peninsula Manila hotel in Makati City on Nov. 29 by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and former Scout Ranger commander, Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, in a bid to force the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Several dozen journalists, who had stayed inside the hotel to cover the unfolding events, were briefly detained but were later released without charges.

Troops retook the hotel and captured the conspirators, but in the process also roughed up members of the press.

The incident led to a heated debate on press freedom, which was restored after the 20-year regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in a popular revolt in 1986.

“One wonders what sort of effect this directive would have had on reporters covering the dramatic events which ousted the Marcos regime and paved the way for what were supposed to be more democratic governments,” Dietz said.

Gonzalez told reporters last week that his media advisory was prompted by intelligence reports that people seeking the overthrow of Ms Arroyo would stage a mass action on Jan. 22 to mark her assumption into the presidency following the ouster of Joseph Estrada in 2001.

Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, and Director General Avelino Razon of the Philippine National Police said they were unaware of the event Gonzalez had referred to, but that they were verifying the information.

“I don’t know the report that he’s talking about,” Esperon told the Inquirer.

Razon said police authorities had no specific information on the Gonzalez report.

However, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said Sunday that the new plot was being planned by people behind the Peninsula incident.

“These groups want to create instability which will result in a condition that will bring about danger to the constitutional government,” Puno said.

He said Gonzalez issued the advisory to serve as a reminder that the plotters would use the media as “human shields” in the same way the Trillanes group did on Nov. 29.

Marine and Army Scout Ranger officers detained in Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, warned in a statement last week that Esperon and Ms Arroyo had caused “widespread demoralization.”

Reports from Agence France-Presse, Leila B. Salaverria, Nikko Dizon and Christine O. Avendaño

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