A LAWYERS’ group on Thursday denounced the arrest of journalists who were covering a land protest in Tarlac City.
“Journalists should not have to run the risk of arrest and criminal charges when they are discharging their constitutionally protected duties of covering and reporting on matters of public consequence, such as land disputes,” the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said in a statement.
“Any intrusion into this liberty of speech and of the press risks depriving the public of crucial knowledge of government affairs.”
Authorities arrested more than 90 people, including journalists, farmers and activists in the village of Tinang in Tarlac City for illegal assembly. Some of them were released shortly after, while 83 were charged.
“Journalists and other members of the press enjoy a wide latitude of discretion in investigating and reporting news relating to public affairs,” IBP said. Police should also respect citizens’ right to due process, it added.
Acting National Police chief Vicente D. Danao earlier questioned the presence of journalists in the protest, accusing them of meddling.
“What are you doing here and why are you meddling inside?” he told a press briefing last week, addressing the journalists. “Maybe you are the ones agitating these groups.“
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) earlier said the protesters should not be punished for exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly.
Last week, the Commission on Human Rights said it would investigate the arrest after farmers filed a complaint at its Central Luzon regional office.
Vice President Maria Leonor G. Robredo also denounced the mass arrest, saying the protesters only wanted to provide for their families.
“A heavy-handed approach to the charge of illegal assembly guts the freedom to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances,” IBP said. — John Victor D. Ordoñez