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Año won’t suspend SPD chief who snatched phone

PNP conducting investigation of Jan. 9 incident involving TV reporter

MANILA, Philippines — Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said on Sunday he was puzzled by the behavior of a police official who snatched a TV reporter’s cell phone and allegedly deleted a video which showed lawmen applying “reasonable force” on a devotee during last week’s Black Nazarene procession.

“We can see thousands of people in the area so it is open, transparent. I reviewed the video which was said to be deleted and I saw nothing wrong in it because the policemen were applying reasonable force so I do not see why [Jun] Veneracion’s phone had to be taken away,” he said in a radio interview.

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Año stressed, however, that “even if the person involved is not Jun Veneracion, a police officer is not supposed to do that.”

Still, he said he saw no reason for Southern Police District (SPD) director Police Brig. Gen. Nolasco Bathan to be suspended from his post over the “specific and isolated” incident.

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“He need not be preventively suspended because he cannot influence the investigation and based on the report given to me by his immediate superior, he [was] very apologetic,” Año said.

He added that he had ordered Philippine National Police officer in charge Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa to investigate the incident “and I will wait for the result of the investigation.”

The chair of the House public information panel, however, felt differently as he urged Año to relieve Bathan.

Offense to press freedom

Rep. Ron Salo of Kabayan party list said the actions of the SPD chief during the “traslacion” on Jan. 9 were “an offense to press freedom and freedom of information, and [was] certainly conduct unbecoming [of] an officer and gentleman.”

“Gen. Bathan’s immediate reaction is a reflection of his fear that the actions of the police officers at the traslacion would be broadcast nationwide,” he added.

Although Salo backed Año’s move to investigate the incident, he said that to ensure the probe’s impartiality, the SPD chief should be relieved or placed under preventive suspension.

“We also wish to see clear timelines when the investigation would be concluded, as well as the meting [out] of appropriate administrative penalties, when the pieces of evidence so warrant,” Salo said.

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“Police officers, including General Bathan, need not fear members of the media or any person recording an event as that act is legal and part of an empowered citizenry if the police officers know that they themselves are performing their functions properly and legally,” he said.

The reporter was covering the Black Nazarene procession when he said he stumbled upon a “commotion between cops and a hapless devotee.”

His video, which he had posted on his Instagram account, showed the devotee being placed in a choke hold by another volunteer while being pulled to the ground by a policeman.

Lone star on shoulder

As he was recording the incident, Veneracion said a police general suddenly “darted out of nowhere and snatched my mobile unit, [and] quickly [left] the scene.”

He didn’t recognize the face, but saw a lone star on his shoulder indicating that he was a police general.

Bathan later returned the phone and apologized for not recognizing Veneracion immediately. When the reporter checked his phone, he found out the video had been deleted.

Bathan “swore, with the Black Nazarene as his witness,” that he had not deleted anything although Veneracion found the video later in his recently deleted folder.—With a report from Krixia Subingsubing

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