Philippine media

KBP pushes harder for removal of reporter testimony clause in drug law

Uriel Quilinguing

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KBP pushes harder for removal of reporter testimony clause in drug law
Journalists risk being cited for contempt or, even worse, subjected to arrest warrants for not showing up in court as witnesses in the drug cases

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) intensified its call to amend a provision in the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 that requires reporters to serve as witnesses in court, urging media workers in Cagayan de Oro to send petitions to members of Congress.

KBP National President Noel Galvez told broadcast executives and reporters in Cagayan de Oro on Thursday, June 6, that the head of a House panel looking into the law has already assured that the controversial provision in Republic Act No. 9165 has already been stricken out by the committee, but the legislative process does not end there.

Galvez said the law compels reporters, who cover law enforcement operations against drug suspects, to sign documents and serve as witnesses.

The provision in Section 21 of the drug law, states: “The apprehending team having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the Department of Justice, and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof.”

Galvez said Surigao del Norte 2nd District Representative Robert Ace Barbers, chairman of the House committee on dangerous drugs, informed him that the proposal to exclude reporters as witnesses has been agreed upon by members of the panel which is looking into two consolidated bills in response to pressures from media groups.

For years, journalists risked being cited for contempt or even worse, subjected to arrest warrants for not showing up in courts as witnesses in the drug cases.

KBP legal counsel Edward Chico pointed out that reporters take part in anti-drug operations “for news but not as part of the news.” 

“We cannot do anything about it for now. Dura lex sed lex (the law may be harsh, but that is the law),” said Chico, stressing the need for legislators to amend the provision in the law. 

Chico advised reporters not to sign anything, much more if one was not present during actual anti-drug operations.

In a live-streamed public discussion, Albino “Jun Albino” Quinlog, manager of the Cagayan de Oro-based broadcaster Magnum Radio, said a radio reporter was facing the prospect of being ordered arrested for his failure to appear in court during a trial.

Nitz Arancon, a newscaster and commentator at DXCC-Radio Mindanao Network, said he had learned a lesson the hard way for casually affixing his signature on prepared affidavits as a favor to his news sources.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Arancon said, he spent the whole day going between the prosecutor’s office and the court, while following health protocols. Late in the afternoon, he said, he found out that the hearing had been rescheduled. To make matters worse, he said he was supposed to testify against someone he knew.

That was just one of many incidents he experienced. He said he had also been asked to sign affidavits for police operations he didn’t witness, where he only saw suspects handcuffed. He said he has since refused to sign anything about the narcotics operations.

Ronald Rufin, KBP-Cagayan de Oro chairman, said broadcasters in the city would send a joint petition in solidarity with other groups pushing for the scrapping of the controversial provision. –

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