“While the current law makes it optional to make journalists witnesses, many times, threats to exclude them from coverage or from receiving tips have forced them to do so.”
By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA– Cagayan de Oro’s 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez proposes to remove journalists as one of the required signatories during anti-drug operations.
Section 21 (1) of Republic Act No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 mandated that ‘representatives of the media’ is included in the official persons required to sign the copies of the inventories during anti-drug operations. This requirement was then amended by Republic Act No. 10640 on July 15, 2014, which made media as witnesses during operations optional.
Despite that, law enforcement units continue to require journalists to sign as witnesses, usually as a condition for letting the media cover such operations.
Rodriguez disagrees with such practice, saying, ““They are there to cover law enforcement activities, not to participate in documentation and subsequently in hearings.”
In House Bill No. 4140, Rodriguez proposes that media: “shall be invited to join/cover anti-drug operations of the government for journalism purposes only” and that “they shall not be required, coerced, or intimidated to sign the inventory of seized items, nor shall they be called as witnesses in any court proceeding in relation to the anti-drug operations they cover.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) welcomes the move, as the group has been lobbying for the removal of the requirement since 2018. (See full manifesto here: https://nujp.org/campaign/manifesto-sign-against-the-sign/)
“While the current law makes it optional to make journalists witnesses, many times, threats to exclude them from coverage or from receiving tips have forced them to do so,” said NUJP Chair Nonoy Espina said. He reiterated that the requirement puts journalists at risk of retaliation from drug syndicates they testify against.
“We call on other lawmakers to join this laudable move, which will go a long way to improving the safety of journalists.”