Lawmakers push probe of police media visits
MANILA, Philippines— Lawmakers on Sunday called for an inquiry into the police “gesture” of conducting house visits on some media practitioners reportedly as a show of concern for their safety and well-being.
The Philippine National Police leadership has distanced itself from the controversy, saying the national headquarters did not give a direct instruction to do house visits as part of efforts to secure journalists, according to spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo, adding that PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. has ordered an investigation.
“We want to assure everyone, particularly our media practitioners and their families, that the PNP means no harm,” she added.
In a Twitter post on Saturday, John Paul “JP” Soriano of GMA News said an officer in plain clothes showed up at his house unannounced to “check” on his security and asked if he had received any threats recently, considering the assassination of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa on Oct. 3, and the online threats against broadcast journalists Ed Lingao and Lourd de Veyra.
Veteran broadcasters Noel Alamar and David Oro also said policemen showed up at their homes, while dzXL reporter Lourdes Escaros said a PNP officer who was also not in uniform went to the radio station a few days ago looking for her.
In a statement on Saturday night, Brig. Gen. Jonnel Estomo, head of the PNP National Capital Region Police Office, confirmed that the house-to-house calls were among efforts by the police to secure journalists. He also apologized to “all our media friends” for that initiative.
He has since ordered all police chiefs, down to the stations, to stop the home visits.
But Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante and ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro want the House of Representatives to look into what they described as an “overkill” by the PNP supposedly on the media’s behalf.
Saying the police visits would be traumatic to most people, Abante told radio station dzBB on Sunday that the house visits violated human rights.
“Our PNP sometimes engages in overkill. I hope they will make it proper and not make sudden actions. That was alarming,” he said.
He pointed out that the PNP could have done prior coordination with journalists they planned to visit.
Castro claimed the police had earlier visited some teachers as a pretext for profiling them.
“After [those house visits], red-tagging of teachers worsened. In Masbate, whenever [members of ACT held] a meeting, they [would be] visited by the Army who [would] ask so many questions and try to convince them to leave [the group],” the House deputy minority leader said.
“The problem with these supposed ‘visits’ [is that] they are not mere visits because…they are illegally accessing and/or disclosing and/or using personal information,’” Castro said.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian on Sunday suggested that, instead of sending cops in plainclothes, the PNP should hold consultative meetings with media groups to avoid any misunderstanding.
Gatchalian said it was natural for people to be alarmed when they are visited by cops in their homes for no reason.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, in a statement, said: “It’s the most stupid idea. I can see the sense in this move of the PNP, but its execution is rather contemptible.”
“And the most glaring of all, how could they get hold of very personal and sensitive information such as [the] home address of a journalist?” asked the senator.
“Clearly, the PNP violated the Data Privacy Act and someone should be held accountable for this,” Estrada said.