“NutriAsia is not only a violator of labor laws but a threat to press freedom.”
By TYRA AQUINO
MANILA — The five journalists who were arrested and detained while covering the July 30 NutriAsia strike have sufficient evidence to file countercharges against the NutriAsia management and Bulacan police, according to their lawyer.
In a roundtable discussion held last week, lawyer Kristina Conti said the five journalists could file charges of physical injuries, delay in the delivery of detained persons, violation of the rights of detainees, among others against the Meycauayan police and NutriAsia management.
Conti, assistant secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), said, “NutriAsia is not only a violator of labor laws but a threat to press freedom.”
Conti said the detention and filing of charges against Altermidya journalists Eric Tandoc, Hiyasmin Saturay and Avon Ang, student intern Psalty Caluza, and campus journalist Jon Bonifacio are violations of the law.
The five journalists were arrested and detained along with 14 NutriAsia workers and supporters on July 30. The 19 were released Aug. 1, a day after the prosecutor dismissed the physical injuries case due to lack of probable cause. The other charges — illegal assembly (BP 880) and alarm and scandal — remain pending.
“The police acted with excessive violence, excessive use of force,” Conti said. “This is unforgivable.”
Tandoc and Bonifacio were among those injured when policemen and security guards threw rocks at the protesters. Conti said NutriAsia is also liable because their security guards acted under the supervision and control of NutriAsia management.
Conti said Bulacan police violated Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, which requires public officers to submit detained persons to proper judicial authorities “within 12 hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by light penalties, or their equivalent; 18 hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by correctional penalties, or their equivalent and 36 hours, for crimes, or offenses punishable by afflictive or capital penalties.”
Conti said the provision also states that person detained must also be informed of the cause of his detention.
“Any delay in the delivery of persons according 18 hours, 24 hours, 36 hours means that the detention is illegal and that you are liable for violating the law,” Conti said.
The journalists were detained for more than 36 hours without being presented before the proper judicial authorities – the courts. The five, along with NutriAsia workers and supporters, were released on Aug. 1, a day after the prosecutor ordered their release.
Conti said the police should have automatically released the detainees upon receipt of the release orders. She said that requiring clearances from the provincial prosecutor is questionable. She said such requirement is only for detainees who have been formally charged.
The arrested NutriAsia strikers and journalists were asked by the police to submit clearances from the Bulacan Provincial Prosecutor’s Office before their release.
For his part, Jose Mari Callueng, national president of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, criticized NutriAsia management for asking the journalists to sign “quit claims,” which indicate that they would not release stories about the dispersal in exchange for their freedom.
“This proves that the NutriAsia wanted to silence the media,” Callueng said.
The prosecutor, however, did not recognize the document, saying it was illegal.
One of the arrested journalists, Avon Ang, said they were targeted. “At first, they were pointing at those who were carrying cameras. Then they arrested most of us who were covering the dispersal. This is an attempt to censor what’s really happening there,” Ang said.
Ang was arrested when she went out to help an injured elderly woman.
A photo of bleeding elderly woman – later identified as 56-year old Kadamay member Leticia Retiza – spread on social media along with the campaign to boycott the condiments giant.
Charges against journalists, no basis
Conti said the charges filed by NutriAsia against the journalists explicitly state that the action must be held in a public place. She pointed out that the strike area is a private place.
“The presence of security guards means that it is a private area,” Conti said. “The classification of the place of incident, whether public or private, became the basis for the prosecutor to defer the charges.”