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PNP on media covering, arrested at Tarlac 'bungkalan': Why were you there?

Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine National Police questioned the presence of members of the press at the arrest of 83 peasant advocates conducting a land cultivating activity in in Tinang, Concepcion, Tarlac.

Despite identifying themselves as members of the press, 11 journalists, including members of the campus press, were among those nabbed. They were released Sunday afternoon after posting bail.

Speaking to reporters at a press briefing after the PNP's weekly flag-raising ceremony at Camp Crame, Police Lt. Gen. Vicente Danao Jr., PNP officer-in-chargeuntil a new chief is named, asked what business the media had covering a public event.

"Why are you with those militants? What is your purpose there? That's my question for you. Imagine, maybe even the media was just meddling there. In the first place, if you went there, you're already with those people," he said in mixed Filipino and English.

Apart from covering social events and government programs, media sometimes reports about social issues like land disputes and the agrarian reform program. June 10, a day after the arrests at the 'bungkalan', is the anniversary of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

Peasant groups called the incident "the 'biggest mass arrest' of farmers and peasant advocates under the Duterte administration."

According to an aler by the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, one of the campus journalists released was being followed by cops a day after their release. 

"Why are you part of that? To agitate the people and make up stories? Then if the police arrest you, you'll say there's a human rights violation. But what about the crops you're destroying? Are you not violating the rights of those farmers there?" Danao also told reporters Monday morning. 

To recall, activists, cultural workers, and agrarian reform beneficiaries were doing 'bungkalan' — cultivation work — on a piece of disputed land in Hacienda Tinang in Concepcion, Tarlac when they were visited by police officers. Some 91 farmers and peasant advocates were eventually arrested without a warrant and charged with malicious mischief and illegal assembly.

Police Regional Office 3 claimed that the farmers "demolished the sugarcane plantation owned by [an] Agriculture Cooperative," though it is unclear what kind of damage the collective land preparation activity could have done to the land.

Peasant advocate organization the National Federation of Peasant Women or Amihan said in an alert 2:45 p.m. Sunday afternoon that Police Lt. Col. Reynold Macabitas — Concepcion, Tarlac acting police chief — refused to recognize the release order. 

"Tell these people, if I don't make a mess in your house, will you not kill me there inside?" Danao also said Monday. — Franco Luna with a report from Kaycee Valmonte 

PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE

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