Media urged to be mindful of suspects' rights during interviews
Agents of National Bureau Investigation, Dagupan office arrested public school teacher Ronnel Mas over his tweet offering P50 million as reward to anyone who could kill President Rodrigo Duterte.
National Bureau of Investigation Public Information Office
Media urged to be mindful of suspects' rights during interviews
( - May 17, 2020 - 12:58pm

MANILA, Philippines — Media should be careful that they do not inadvertently deprive suspects of their rights after prosecutors ruled that the invalid arrest of a teacher over a social media post was made valid because of an interview given to media, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said.

Prosecutors on Friday said that the defective warrantless arrest of public school teacher Ronnel Mas for tweeting that he was offering a reward to have President Rodrigo Duterte killed was "ultimately cured" by his admission in interviews that he posted the tweet. He also apologized for what he did.

 Arrests have to be based on warrants signed by a judge unless a person is seen committing a crime or attempting to commit a crime.

Law enforcement officers can also arrest a person without warrant "when an offense has just been committed and he has probable cause to believe, based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances, that the person to be arrested has committed it."

According to the inquest resolution, "it is undeniable that the arrest of [Mas] made by the NBI-Dagupan operatives does not fall within the ambit of warrantless arrest contemplated by the law." Mas was indicted for Inciting to Sedition in relation to the Cybercrime Prevention Act anyway.

Lawyers, including law professor and former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te, have said that media interviews not done in the presence of counsel do not "cure" the fact that the arrest was done without a warrant.

"We leave it to legal experts to debate the legality of Mas' 'confession.' But we are concerned that media, by interviewing arrestees without their counsel present, may find themselves abetting possible miscarriages of justice," NUJP said.

In a social media post, Te said that media "should be sensitive to the court's warning that the 'presentation' of suspects to media without counsel might be a strategy to obtain an extrajudicial confession without counsel, which law enforcement would otherwise not be able to obtain."

The Philippine National Police in 2018 reminded its officers to stop presenting suspects to media because it violates their right to due process and the presumption of innocence. 

"It also subjects them to unwanted publicity that could besmirch their name and reputation, including that of their family," a National Police Commission memorandum in 2007 that the PNP cited in 2018 said.

That prohibition has since been set aside.

"Rules regarding the presentation of suspects, especially those against their identification before formal charges have been filed, have been propounded again and again, including by the Philippine National Police, most recently in June 2018," NUJP said in its statement on Saturday.

"Unfortunately, these rules have invariably been discarded and even the PNP regularly presents witnesses without counsel," it also said.

"We therefore appeal to news organizations to include in their reporting manuals rules against interviewing arrested persons unless their counsel are present and allow such interviews. As journalists, it is our duty not to cause, or minimize, harm." — Jonathan de Santos

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