NUJP statement on the harassment of media members in yesterday’s Malacañang protest

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines protests in the strongest terms the manhandling by personnel of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) of photojournalists who covered the protest and violent dispersal of youth activists at Malacañang on August 19 and demands immediate accountability.

While at times covering such protests and their violent aftermath can accidentally cause physical harm to journalists and media workers, the account of Philippine Daily Inquirer photographer Rem Zamora indicates that the assault on him and other colleagues, who were properly identified and were clearly there to perform their duties, was deliberate.

Zamora says he and the other photojournalists were not spared rough handling as the PSG and police began to disperse the protesters. In fact, he said, Ms. Alanah Torralba of the European Press Agency, fell down twice and her camera lens broke when she was pushed by the authorities.

Zamora said when he started taking photos when he saw PSG and police personnel beating up students who had already been apprehended, some of the uniformed personnel tried to cover his camera lens to prevent him from documenting the incident.

As he tried to move away, he said, a PSG officer blocked his path. When Zamora showed his PDI identification card, the PSG office “pulled it violently from my neck.” Even as Zamora was explaining that he was with the press and had, in fact, covered Malacañang for about a year, the PSG officer grabbed him by the arm and tried to force him out, even accusing media of being cohorts of the protesters and “thus giving him the right to do what he was doing to me.”

Zamora only got out of his bind when colleagues responded to his shouts of “Media! Media!” and a cameraman from GMA 7 came to his rescue.

But this was not the end of Zamora’s ordeal. Even as he had stepped aside, the same PSG officer again approached him and photographer Luis Liwanag and pushed them toward the Palace gates. Seeing there was no point in arguing, the two went outside.

Ironically, outside the Palace gates, the same PSG officer, now armed with a camera, took pictures of the protesters, who seized the camera and returned it only after erasing the pictures. Realizing this, the PSG officer who, only minutes earlier, had manhandled Zamora, now approached the photojournalists asking if he could ask copies of their photographs.

We would not like to think that the PSG, as a whole, or the uniformed services, are ignorant of what media are and do, and our role in society.

But the fact is that the PSG officer clearly targeted Zamora for abuse because he was a member of the media and a “cohort” of the protesters. This is a very chilling revelation into how the PSG and, very possibly, the uniformed services view the media. Not surprisingly, however, given how little value and respect this administration has shown for freedom of the press and of free expression, if we go by the accounts that the state of national emergency in 2006 was intended to crack down on an “intransigent” press.

Equally chilling is the same PSG officer’s asking media for photos of the protesters who he and his colleagues had earlier physically assaulted. The media exist to document events as they happen, not to be part of anyone’s intelligence gathering arm, especially so if the information may lead to the abuse of human rights and other constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.

We demand redress for the violent treatment of our colleagues during the Malacañang protest and sanctions on all those responsible. More importantly, we demand that the uniformed services immediately educate its members on what media are and what media’s role is in a supposedly free and democratic society

Nestor P. Burgos, Jr


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