STOP PRACTICE   End media as witnesses in drug stings

By Ralph Lawrence Llemit and Angie Saveron

The militant National Union of Journalists of the Philippines  is calling for an immediate end to the practice of law enforcers in requiring journalists to sign as witnesses to the inventory of contraband and other items seized during anti-drug operations.

This, even as a ranking regional official of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) based in Davao City denied NUJP’s accusation that enforcers are forcing reporters to sign as witnesses to anti-drug operations.

In a “Sign Against the Sign” manifesto,  the media union urged Congress to craft a legislation to amend the current provision of the Section 21 (1) of the Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Although a provision has been amended in 2014 that testifying as witness is made optional, according to the NUJP, some law enforcers are forcing them to sign or else they would be banned from covering the operations.

The group also disclosed that some reporters have been forced to sign the witness form even if they were not present during the operations.

NUJP Secretary General Elizabeth Panelo-Castaneda said in an interview that the practice has become a form of harassment for journalists, as police officer are allegedly forcing them to sign a police blotter on operations on the drug campaign.

“These cases are rampant in provinces,” Castaneda said.

She also said that by signing the blotter, journalists are required to attend court hearings that conflicts with their working schedule.

“We are losing our independence as a journalist,” Castaneda expressed.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Regional Director Antonio E. Rivera said on Wednesday during the AFP-PNP Press Conference that they are not forcing the media to sign the witness form.

Rivera said that in a drug operations conducted by the PDEA and the Philippine National Police (PNP), there should a representative from the Department of Justice (DOJ), the barangays and the media as witnesses.

Although he did not state if they are required to sign, he then seek the media’s cooperation.

“We cannot force the media to sign, but we are knocking on your conscience since the war on drugs is only the responsibility of PDEA and other government agencies,” Rivera said.

Police Regional Office 11 (PRO-11) Chief Inspector Jason Baria seconded, saying that having the media sign the witness form would be a validation especially on the evidences gathered during the anto-drug operations.

“That is why the court calls them for clarification and check the validity of the evidences gathered,” Rivera said.

He added, “Our purpose is the let the community know what transpires during the operations through the media, since they are they the eyes and the ears of the public.”