CAGAYAN DE ORO – Media organizations welcomed a proposed bill that calls on law enforcers not to compel journalists to take part in anti-illegal drug operations or to appear as witnesses in drug-related court cases.
House Bill 4104, authored by Deputy House Speaker and Cagayan de Oro representative Rufus Rodriguez, seeks to amend section 21 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
Section 21 states that members of the media are required to take part in anti-drug operations, for instance, in signing the inventory of confiscated items.
HB 4104 wants to amend that section by allowing the presence of media to cover anti-drug operations for journalism purposes only. The bill has been approved on Monday, while a counterpart bill is also filed in the Senate, according to Rodriguez.
A similar bill filed by Rep. France Castro, of Act-Teachers party-list, also seeks to exempt journalists from acting as anti-drug operations witnesses.
Reynaldo Maraunay, chapter president of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas in Cagayan de Oro, said they have actually petitioned Rodriguez some years back to file amendments, particularly on a section that compels journalists to attend court hearings as witness on drug-related charges.
“It is burdensome for our reporters to attend court hearings. It is risky on our part,” he said.
Maraunay said acting as witness in anti-drug cases “is not part of our job. Our job is to cover, what really happened on the ground.”
Richard dela Cruz, a regional reporter for Eagle News Network, shared his experiences and risks covering and witnessing around 70 drug-related cases since 2004.
“When we become witness in drug-related cases, our lives are in danger. We become a target by drug personalities. Sometimes we are mistaken for being assets of law enforcers, and we could get killed for it,” he said.
Another problem dela Cruz pointed out is that journalists will be given a warrant if they fail to attend a court hearing.
Dr. Manuel Jaudian, Cagayan de Oro Press Club president, said members of the media must not be compelled to be a witness and that it must be their decision to appear in court.
“If he does it as part of his obligation as citizen of the Republic, then that it his decision, with a fair warning that if you are witness, you are now covered by the rules of court, like non-appearance during court hearings, because you have become a witness,” he said.
One of the concerns Jaudian has raised regarding the issue is when there are mistakes committed by law enforcers in anti-drug operations.
“So you are now tied up, instead of being an independent observer. Our role as media practitioners is to tell the truth. We are not siding on anything,” he added.