The right of the people to information on matters of public concern is protected by the Constitution. Through media, people get such information. And media, in turn, obtain it from government offices such as the police office.
Spot reports refer to basic facts of an incident which a police office records. It also contains information on the particular PNP unit, its members, et cetera, who conducts the operation.
For practical reasons, police news reporters rely on such information. The reporters will know what happens in different towns and cities of the province through the spot reports in the provincial or regional police offices.
For the police to disallow media access to said information is questionable at the very least.
Ironically, such denial came at a time when Cebu media celebrates the broadcasters’ month and press freedom week, this month of September.
The PNP thus now confronts two issues:
First is the order of President Rodrigo Duterte to the police to conduct anti-drug operations in the presence of journalists, and second the order of Camp Crame to disallow reporters to access the PNP spot reports.
The first seems to be a non-issue. Many, if not all, appreciate if informed by the police of newsworthy operations. What is important is that media will have all the freedoms and prerogatives to send their reporters to cover.
In fact, in Cebu, such practice is not new especially to the broadcast media that makes a live coverage while the action is going on. It has been observed, however, that police is selective, informing only their media friends. With Duterte’s order, I hope the police will inform fairly all media outlets.
The purpose of the first is transparency. On the part of the media, the primary reason for them to cover the anti-drug operations is to gather a newsworthy story. Making them as witnesses if the police really follow the rules of engagement is only incidental to their main job. After all, media’s lack of personnel will be seen as a big limitations. Hence, we encourage the police to sincerely do their job with or without the presence of media.
The second is a big deal. It seems ironic and in collision with the first. Disallowing reporters to access the spot reports that will fall within the sphere of public documents runs counter to the principle of transparency.
Article III Section 4, in connection with Section 7 of the Constitution, provides the sacred guaranty of the freedom of the press and the fundamental right of the people to information on matters of public concern. Any move that is repugnant thereto must be clearly justified.
The PNP leadership should review its directives if the same is in line with the President’s Executive Order (EO) on freedom of information. These things did not happen before when the previous chief executives never issued an EO on freedom of information. Insofar as I can recall, this is the first time.
Even Senator Panfilo Lacson, former PNP chief, believes that the spot reports are covered by the EO issued by Malacañang. He further said that the only basis for the police not to release the spot report is if the same is classified as confidential. Meaning, it is only an exception to the rule.
So if police has nothing to hide, then why does it not maintain the status quo of letting the media see the spot reports as practiced through the years? What triggers such directives? Why can it not give a convincing explanation?
Note that no less than the President said that 40 percent of the police force are involved in the illegal drug trade syndicate. This means that people, all the more through the media, should closely monitor the government’s war on drugs.
I hope the PNP will seriously reconsider its directives.