Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the alleged media harassment committed by police couple in Leyte

Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the alleged media harassment committed by police couple in Leyte

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) expresses grave concern regarding the reported harassment of three journalists covering a land dispute in the town of Pastrana in Leyte province on 14 July 2023. The alleged acts of aggression and harassment were allegedly committed by a married police couple over a land dispute that they are involved in.

As captured in a video posted by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), police officer Rhea Mae Baleos aggressively pushed one of the reporters of San Juanico TV while he was taking videos. In a statement, NUJP said that Baleos reportedly grabbed Sianosa’s mobile phone. Gunshots were then heard after a few minutes, which can also be heard in the video clip. The NUJP statement also mentioned that one of the journalists “saw policemen in uniform firing the shots.”

CHR acknowledges the fast response of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Eastern Visayas in relieving the police couple involved and initiating an investigation into the matter. We hope that their assurance of an unbiased inquiry and their commitment to not tolerate any form of abuse will result in full accountability of those found responsible for committing grave misconduct. We also call for protection for the journalists involved as well as efforts to ensure media safety in the area.

We equally note the Presidential Task Force on Media Security or PTFoMS’ immediate denouncement on the reported actions of the police. It is crucial for the government to convey unequivocal condemnation of any acts of intimidation or harassment against members of the press. We hope that efforts are being done to further strengthen mechanisms to prevent the occurrence of media harassment and to heighten the protection of this sector.

Acts of aggression and harassment against media impede the exercise of press freedom, which includes the right to gather and disseminate information without interference. Such acts also undermine the fundamental right to security of person, which encompasses protection from physical harm, threats, and intimidation as set forth in Article III, Section II of the Constitution, and the Article III of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We reiterate our reminder to all police officers to adhere to the PNP Operational Procedures, which provide ample guidelines in the performance of police duties to prevent any form of abuse of authority.

Members of the press must be able to carry out their work without intimidation and threats. Lack of media safety hinders the ability of the press to hold power to account and to disseminate important information, which contribute to the erosion of a democratic society.

CHR-Regional Office VIII is closely monitoring the development of this case simultaneous with the conduct of a parallel probe. As always, the Commission stands ready to collaborate with all stakeholders in ensuring media safety and upholding press freedom. ###