No more ‘firing line’ presentation

  • Written by Alfred P. Dalizon
  • Published in Opinion
  • Read: 268

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IT’S actually been a Philippine National Police policy since 2008 although some commanders failed to fully implement it. I’m referring to the practice of some PNP officials to present arrested suspects in front of the media, even allowing victims to slap, punch or kick the suspects on live TV.

I understand why many police officers do it. First, they want to brandish their anti-crime accomplishment to the public. 2nd, they are hoping that other victims of the suspects may recognize them when their faces are shown on television or splashed in newspapers. I know it very well since I am privy to many unsolved cases of killings, robbery or rape which were solved when the suspects were seen by their victims on TV.

However, the practice has to stop in line with the PNP’s program on human rights protection. This after my friend, PNP chief, General Oscar ‘Odie’ Albayalde scrapped the ‘firing line’ presentation of arrested crime offenders including rogues in uniform to the media. However, it doesn’t mean that police will also stop its crackdown against criminals. As Gen. Albayalde had promised, they will be giving the same fair treatment to all crime offenders, whether they are members of the police, a politician or an ordinary Pedro or Juan de la Cruz. There will be a zero tolerance in the anti-crime drive, he assured me.

The ‘firing line,’ others call it ‘firing squad’ presentation of arrested crime offenders by the police is good for television cameras but not for seasoned reporters and editors. In fact, it’s a practice abhorred by veteran editors and newsmen who have pounded the beat for decades.                                                      Instead of parading suspects in a press conference, what the police can do is to allow cameramen to take pictures or video of the suspects while being led to a police car or a detention facility. Besides, there are cases of arrested suspects who cover their faces with handkerchiefs or t-shirts put a cap as soon as they see the press.  No one can really prevent them from hiding their faces since it’s their right as an accused.

On Monday, PNP spokesman, soon-to-be Chief Superintendent Benigno ‘Bong’ Durana Jr. of PMA ‘Maringal’ Class of 1988 said that Gen. Albayalde has decided to implement the policy that upholds and promotes the constitutional and human rights even of crime suspects.

The policy prescribing the presentation or non-presentation of suspects to the media was first approved on October 7, 2008 by then PNP chief, now retired Gen. Jess  Verzosa and followed up in another memorandum by Verzosa’s successor, Gen. Raul Bacalzo.

The policy to ensure the balance of polarity between the constitutionally-provided right of the suspect vis-à-vis presumption of innocence on one hand; and the right of the State to public order and safety and access to information on matters of public information on the other, has not been rescinded since then . “We can be tough on crime while upholding the rule of law,” Gen. Albayalde emphasized.

In line with its objective to inform and protect the public from suspected unscrupulous individuals, police has long been used to the practice of presenting suspects to the press in a ‘firing line’ or in which arrested suspects clad in orange t-shirt with markings ‘Detainee’ stand behind police officers.

However, I agree that the practice is not only violative of the suspects’ constitutional rights of presumption of innocence but also of their human rights as it subjects them to unwanted publicity and besmirches their name and reputation including that of their family before guilt is proven.

I can’t count on my fingers cases of suspects who were arrested by the police and other law enforcement agencies and presented to the press only to be ordered released for further investigation by government prosecutors or even suspects who turned out to have been wrongly accused of a crime or worst, were victims of ‘mistaken identity.’

In a memorandum to all 17 Police Regional Office directors and heads of all PNP National Support Units, the PNP in 2008 declared that suspects arrested for any violation of the law shall in no case be presented in a ‘firing line’ to the media.

However, the PNP leadership said that the arresting PNP office may use the media, print and broadcast alike to inform the public about the arrest of the suspect/s, the crime committed, its nature and circumstances, the time and place of its commission and other person/s involved.

It also said that the PNP may continue publishing the pictures of wanted person with warrant/s of arrest including their personal circumstances in any medium as their continued absconding of justice would further derail and deny the administration of justice.

However, once arrested, arresting officers shall in no case present them to the media in a ‘firing line’ manner. Police are also under orders to ensure that there will be strict adherence to the provisions of Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act as regards to the treatment of Children in Conflict with the Law or CICLs.

Police have also been ordered not to allow any person specifically complainants or relatives of victims to manhandle or inflict bodily harm or slap, punch and beat the suspect/s.  Police are also required to file proper criminal charges against anyone who will physically maltreat or harm suspect/s in police custody.

In most cases, cameramen and photographers are the ones egging complainants or their relatives to assault arrested suspects to have a much better picture or video. In one instance, an uncle of a murder victim sneaked in front of the media to send a crashing uppercut at the jaw of a suspect in Camp Crame. It happened in front of a number of surprised police generals and prompted officers to subdue the punch-thrower who was not charged in court.

The memorandum said that all PNP personnel found violating the guideline shall be administratively liable for less grave neglect of duty for failure to comply with a lawful order or instruction of a superior officer.