POSTSCRIPT / August 31, 2010 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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PNP report blaming Mendoza is premature

WHY THE RUSH?: Why is the Philippine National Police in a hurry to report that all the eight hostages killed on a tour bus at the Luneta last Aug. 23 were shot only by dismissed senior police inspector Rolando Mendoza?

The report is premature. It relies mainly on a physical count of the empty shells found inside the bus carrying tourists from Hong Kong. Since 58 of the 65 spent shells (not slugs) came from Mendoza’s M16 rifle, the police said he must have been the one who shot them!

The quantum leap of logic is hard to follow.

There was no clear indication that the police have factored in autopsy findings on the shooting victims and other forensic details such as the slugs recovered, the trajectory of the bullets, and other materials such as shells found outside the bus.

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HK VERSION: Many of us are ready to believe that none of the victims was hit by a stray slug from the SWAT team that assaulted the bus. But if we are to clear the government forces, it should be done without a trace of doubt.

Maybe the PNP does not mean it, but its report gives the impression it is in a hurry to preempt the parallel investigation by Hong Kong authorities on the victims’ body, the bus and other material objects.

What if the Hong Kong findings will not jibe with that of the PNP? The police report is controlling within Philippine jurisdiction, but not in the area of public opinion in the rest of the world.

We are tempted to ask if there is an order to wrap up the case fast and clear the deck before PNP Director General Jesus Versoza retires this September.

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MORE DRILL, DRILL: There are suggestions that the media coverage rules and the police rules of engagement be revisited, possible revised.

As I see it, the problem of the police does not seem to be lack of rules or SOP (standard operating procedure), but a failure to follow them. This is compounded by the apparent lack of equipment, training and competent leadership.

The SWAT members apparently need more drill, drill and more drill.

In the Luneta incident, the rules were twisted. There was something disturbing seeing the crowd of onlookers too close to the scene, Manila policemen being sent to go after their fellow Manila policeman (Mendoza), top brass and politicians kibitzing and telling the ground commander what to do.

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MEDIA OWNERS: In the case of media, our press coverage rules and ethical codes have been there all along, They are clear and simple rules drummed into our heads by our elders in school, the office and on the beat.

As I see it, there is no need to revamp them just because of the bloody Luneta hostage-taking. More attention should be given instead to their observance and the imposing of sanctions on those who break them.

Cracking the whip on wayward workers is an obligation of media owners and their managers. It would be messy to ask or expect the police to enforce media rules on media practitioners.

Media owners must realize that it is not enough that their workers bring in stories that sell and that they pay them their regular wages. Giving ethical direction and ensuring compliance to the codes is a higher obligation.

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WHO’S LEGIT?: One real problem is the proliferation of so-called media. If there is a news incident, can anybody with a camera just join the crowd and be accorded the normal courtesies and access given to press photographers?

Who is legit and who is fake? The display of press cards is not even a guarantee that its bearer is legit. In fact, the bigger the ID cards hanging from his neck, the bigger fake he often turns out to be.

This point raises the issue of accreditation. In well-defined beats, accreditation is acceptable since even the media do not want their ranks infiltrated by impostors. But accreditation should not be construed as a kind of licensing or granting of permission to cover.

The legitimate press does not need government permission or license to perform its duties.

There is also the matter of cellphones and small digital cameras that some citizens use to “cover” events. Can anybody with a cellphone intrude into a news scene, jostle with the legit press and demand equal access — claiming to be covering for a TV or radio network?

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NEW MEDIA ROLE: At the Vatican, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications has organized an international conference for Oct. 4-7 for the Catholic press to focus on the Church’s use of the Internet and new media.

Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of that dicastery, said: “The big question at bottom is: in today’s social context, in today’s Church, what role will a Catholic radio station play, a Catholic television channel? The same question can be asked about the (Catholic) press.

“The topic of the Congress regards not only the Catholic press, but the Catholic press in the digital age, because everyone already knows that there are many more who read a newspaper — Catholic or not — via the internet than who buy a copy of the newspaper.”

The conference will include roundtables and presentations from representatives of the secular press, as well as discussions on particular questions, such as the relationship of the media and the search for truth, or the link between the Catholic press and controversies.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 31, 2010)

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