Questions for Danao and the PNP

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The mass arrest of over 90 farmers, advocates, and members of the media in Hacienda Tinang, Concepcion, Tarlac last week has caught the Philippine National Police (PNP) in a tight bind, with authorities now scrambling to defend their unjustifiable acts.

This is apparent in how Police Lt. Gen. Vicente Danao Jr., PNP officer-in-charge, has resorted to unreasonable statements to justify the police’s actions against the groups who were peaceably conducting a land cultivating activity to assert their right to till the land.

“Why are you with those militants? What is your purpose there? That’s my question for you,” Danao was reported as saying, addressing the 11 journalists who were nabbed along with peasant advocates.

To this, any independent journalist knowledgeable of the vital role of the media in a democracy would reply: “Why not?”

Was it not apparent that the media present in Hacienda Tinang that day were covering an activity on a land that should have long undergone land distribution under the government’s very own Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program? The media was invited to cover the launching of the farmers’ cultivation program in anticipation of their formal installation as agrarian reform beneficiaries.

The gathering was well within the farmers’ expression of their right to free assembly and speech, and more importantly, an assertion of their right to land that has been denied from them for almost three decades.

When has it been wrong for the media to report on issues that involve peasant rights and public interest?

In journalism school, we were taught that the basic values and principles of journalism include “humanness”. This principle is achieved through the protection of the “vulnerable and the powerless” in society.

We ask the PNP: Is it too much to ask state forces to uphold the same principle of humanness, instead of Danao’s dangerous reasoning that disregards our basic rights and civil liberties?

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