Media groups back bid to revise law compelling journalists to testify in drug cases
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—Media groups here welcomed the proposal of Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez not to compel journalists to stand as witnesses in drug-related cases.
Rodriguez said in a radio interview he filed House Bill No. 4104 to amend section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which compels media men to join anti-drug operations and sign the inventory of confiscated drugs during these operations.
HB No. 4104 states that the presence of media men will be allowed during anti-drug operations for coverage and journalism purposes only.
A similar bill filed by Rep. France Castro, of the party-list group Act-Teachers, also seeks to spare journalists from being forced to take the witness stand in drug cases. Castro’s bill seeks to amend Republic Act No. 10640, or the law further strengthening the government’s anti-drug campaign, and also RA No. 9165.
Rodriguez said the proposed amendments have already been approved in the House while a counterpart bill had been filed at the Senate.
He said media men invited to anti-drug operations should “only be for journalism purposes” and should not be required to sign inventories of confiscated items.
“Instead of media covering events, they are in court, waiting the whole day for the cases. Their time is wasted and that prevents them from rendering necessary public service,” Rodriguez said.
Reynaldo Maraunay, chapter president of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) in Cagayan de Oro, said the group actually petitioned Rodriguez to file the amendment some years back.
“It is burdensome for our reporters to attend court hearings. It is (also) risky on our part,” he said.
Maraunay said acting as a witness in anti-drug cases “is not part of our job.” “Our job is to cover what really happened on the ground,” he said.
Dr. Manuel Jaudian, Cagayan de Oro Press Club president, said members of the media should not be compelled to be witnesses and should be given the freedom to choose whether to appear in court or not.
“If he does it as part of his obligation as citizen of the Republic, then that is his decision, with a fair warning that if you are a witness, you are now covered by the rules of court,” he said.
Jaudian also raised concern that appearing as a witness in the police’s anti drug operations might impair journalists’ work in delivering the right information to the public.
He said media men would be tied up in court cases “instead of being an independent observer.” “Our role as media practitioners is to tell the truth,” he said.
He said journalists should not take sides.
The bills seeking to amend the laws to unburden journalists of the duty to stand witness was “laudable,” said Jaudian.
“It will dismiss the interpretation that when a member of the media covers an operation, he is duty bound to become a witness, which should not be the case,” he said.
Richard dela Cruz, a regional reporter for Eagle News Network, said he had served as witness in at least 70 drug-related cases since 2004, when he was still reporting for another radio station in Cagayan de Oro.
“When we become witnesses in drug-related cases, our lives are in danger. We become targets by drug personalities,” Dela Cruz said.
“Sometimes we are mistaken for being assets of law enforcers and we could get killed for it,” he said.
He said another problem that a journalist would face once he or she became a witness and failed to attend a court hearing was the threat of contempt of court which could lead to arrest warrants.
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