Human Rights Violated in Manila Pen Media Arrests, Says CHR

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In a 20-page resolution dated Aug. 26 and issued yesterday, "the Commission found that there had been no basis to justify detaining and the processing of members of media in Camp Bagong Diwa (in Taguig City)."

"In other words, there were violations of the human rights to liberty, security of persons, and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention of the media persons involved in the incident," it added.

The CHR resolution, which was signed by Human Rights Chairperson Leila de Lima and Commissioners Cecilia Rachel Quisumbing, Ma. Victoria Cardona, and Norberto de la Cruz, was in response to a petition filed last December by former National Press Club (NPC) President Roy Mabasa on the "abusive and inhumane" arrests of at least 50 print and broadcast journalists on the evening of Nov. 29, 2007.

Named respondents in the petition filed by Mabasa were Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Avelino Razon Jr., and PNP National Capital Region Police Office chief Director Geary Barias, the PNP Special Action Force head, and other PNP officers and members involved in the arrest.

"The findings here are enough to build strong case against those who arrested and detained the media practitioners," De Lima said.

However, the CHR chief stressed that the Commission is a non-prosecutorial body, which has only recommendatory powers for cases of human rights violations that are brought to its attention.

With the findings, the CHR recommended that the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the PNP file administrative or disciplinary cases against those involved in the arbitrary arrest.

The CHR also recommended that the Department of Justice conduct further investigation and filing of proper cases as to the violations on the provisions of the Revised Penal Code and other special laws on the rights of persons detained.

Likewise, the PNP was urged to review its rules of engagement or its standard operating procedure with regard to civilian and media engagement.

The CHR also reminded the media to take into consideration and respect police or military operations.

It recommended that Congress pass a law on command responsibility in order to ensure accountability during police or military operations, and a law to regulate the rules of engagement of the police and military with the media and civilians during crisis situations.

In the resolution, the CHR said the arrest and detention of the media practitioners were arbitrary since there were "conflicting" claims on the PNP's uncertainty in their actions as to the legal basis for such acts, with "nothing but arbitrariness, whim, and doubt on the part of the arresting officers," and, therefore, the arrests should not have been done.

Likewise, the Commission noted that the PNP failed to follow Article 124 of the Revised Penal Code, which prohibits the detention of a person without legal grounds, and Article 25 which prohibits the delay in delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities.

The Commission also said the PNP failed to clearly inform the complainants that they would be "processed" at Camp Bagong Diwa, which is "not in keeping with human rights standards of security of persons, right to information, and right to decent human treatment."

"Not having shown legality and appropriateness in the conduct of their arrest/taking into custody, their being brought and made to stay at the Camp Bagong Diwa is also unjustified," the CHR said.

"The means of restraint is not justified. Members of the media were restrained by using plastic handcuffs, which are instruments of restraint, which is not justified under the circumstances," the commission said, adding that the media did not display violence nor did they tried to escape the authorities.

If the warrantless arrest was of valid instance, the CHR said, "the respondents failed to inform the media of the nature and cause of accusation against them, of their right to remain silent and their right to counsel. …