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Cop check on journos scored

Privacy concern raised as DILG chief, NCRPO apologize for ‘surprise visit’

“Surprise visits” by police to the homes of at least two journalists sparked privacy concerns among lawmakers and media practitioners over the weekend.

Philippine National Police (PNP) officials apologized for the visits, saying that although they were aimed at ensuring their safety following the Oct. 4 murder of radio broadcaster Percival Mabasa, no direct orders had been issued to authorize them.

Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos on Sunday also said sorry for the visits, which he said “created panic” even as these came “from good faith.”

“Forgive us. This will not happen again,” Abalos said. “Forgive us it these created undue fear.”

National Capital Region (NCRPO) chief Police Gen. Jonnel Estomo ordered a stop to the house visits after several journalists aired their concern over the incidents, pointing out that they violated the Privacy Act.

PNP spokesperson Police Col. Jean Fajardo said there was no direct order from national headquarters in Camp Crame nor the regional director to go to the residences of journalists to ask if they had been threatened.

The only instruction relayed to them was to coordinate with media practitioners to find out if they too had been receiving theats following Mabasa’s murder.

“We can only presume that what happened in other areas was due to the different interpretations on how cops should coordinate with media practitioners in their respective areas of jurisdiction,” she told radio dzBB, speaking in Filipino.

Over the weekend, GMA News reporter JP Soriano claimed that a man who introduced himself as a cop but not wearing a uniform visited his house.

“He said the PNP ordered a check on the condition of the journalists after what happened to Percy Lapid. I said that there was no threat to me or to us. He asked me if he could take a picture ‘for documentation’ and I politely declined,” said Soriano in a post on social media.

He added that the same police officer who was not in uniform left and looked for the address of another journalist who is his neighbor.

After the incident, Soriano said, Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. called him to say that he would immediately investigate the matter.

David Oro, a radio commentator for dwIZ, said on his Facebook account that he, too, was visited by men claiming to be police officers.

“Last week, two alleged ‘policemen’ in civilian clothes and onboard [an] unmarked vehicle visited my residence in QC,” he wrote, referring to Quezon City.

He said the men asked his household help what time he would be back, but they did not leave their names or a contact number.

Fajardo said PNP Chief Police Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. has ordered an investigation into the matter and said corrective measures would be carried out against anyone found to be liable.

She said the PNP ordered that the visits be stopped until there was adequate dialogue and specific guidelines were released.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian told radio dzBB that the PNP and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) needed to find out how police acquired the home addresses of journalists.

“It is not clear to me why the police have the addresses of the journalists. It should be clarified how these were obtained and what was the source of the information. Even how they got the cell phone numbers should be clarified,” he said in Filipino.

Fajardo said that the police involved told her that they were able to gather the personal information of the journalists from the barangays.

She said “the PNP [meant] no harm.”

Senator Jinggoy Estrada said the home visits to journalists was “a stupid idea.”

“I can see the sense in this move of the Philippine National Police but its execution is rather contemptible. It’s the most stupid idea, I must say,” Estrada said in a statement.

The PNP has a lot of explaining to do, he added.

“If the purpose is to ensure that there are no threats to their (journalists) lives, why are they (policemen) not in their proper uniform? Why was there no coordination with the local officials and [the] media company or outlet with which the concerned journalist is affiliated? And the most glaring of all, how could they get hold of very personal and sensitive information such as a home address of a journalist?”

The PNP clearly violated the Data Privacy Act and they should be held accountable, he added.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said it is good that the NCRPO apologized for these “surprise visits” and put an end to them immediately.

In this political climate, and in the wake of the killing of Mabasa, the public cannot be blamed for being scared, she said.

She warned that these actions could have a chilling effect on press freedom.

“As a former broadcast journalist myself, I stand squarely beside my former colleagues and the country’s Fourth Estate. Now more than ever, we need a free and strong media,” she said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) expressed alarm over the home visits.

“Assuming good faith, these meetings and dialogues are best done through newsrooms or through the various press corps, press clubs and journalists’ organizations in the capital. Far from making us feel safe, the visits add to our anxiety as these were done without coordination with newsrooms,” the group said.

“The two known incidents of ‘surprise visits’ also violate our right to privacy. We urge the NCRPO and other police units to arrange these dialogues through more formal channels. We also call on the police to take note of and address online threats to our colleagues, including the baseless red-tagging that many in the community have had to endure,” it added.

The NCRPO earlier announced it will provide security to Metro Manila-based journalists who receive threats and are being harassed.

Estomo had tapped all district directors and station commanders of the five police districts in Metro Manila—the Northern, Southern, Eastern, Manila and Quezon City to initiate a dialogue with newspaper reporters, broadcasters, and other media practitioners in their respective areas “to determine imminent threats if any and address their security concerns accordingly.”

The acting director of the Eastern Police District in the NCRPO, Col. Wilson Asueta, apologized to members of the press who complained of privacy violations.

He confirmed that PNP personnel had indeed visited some journalists in his area of responsibility, but declined to say where the order came from.

He added that the objective of the visits was to ensure the safety of the journalists, not to conduct surveillance.


Credit belongs to : www.manilastandard.net

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