The police should be taught about journalists’ rights, said Altermidya national coordinator Rhea Padilla in response to the arrest of their intern UP journalism student Psalty Caluza and three other correspondents covering at NutriAsia.

“Nakita namin kung gaano ka-repressive, kung gaano na-deny yung karapatan ng media. Marami kaming nakuhang accounts na bawal mag-record, bawal ang camera, kailangan ng permit. Alam nila na media ang nahuli nila, pero hindi nila pinalaya,” she said.

Following a violent dispersal of striking NutriAsia workers on Monday, 19 of the workers, supporters, and journalists covering the event were arrested and detained at the Meycauayan police station in Bulacan. Besides Caluza, UP student and campus journalist Jon Bonifacio was also among those detained.

The strike, which led to the bloody dispersal of the estimated 300 workers and supporters, was conducted by NutriAsia workers to protest against the company’s unfair labor practices.

Last July, the Department of Labor and Employment ordered NutriAsia to regularize its workers, after learning that the company was violating labor laws and engaging in labor-only contracting activities. The condiment giant, however, refused to accede to this demand.

Padilla said that while their organization’s initial reaction to the arrest of their journalists was to heighten safety training, they realized that the police should be held accountable first.

She shared that their correspondents were even prevented from using their camera at the police station, even after they pointed out it is a public place.

“Nung tinanong namin si police chief Superintendent Santos Mera kung pwede siya mag-cite ng batas bakit naging bawal mag-shoot, sabi lang niya ‘Wag niyo ‘ko gawing tanga,” Padilla added.

Among the equipment confiscated from the four Altermidya detainees are at least three cameras, two hard drives, a wifi stick, tripods, and two laptops containing video footage and work files.

Padilla emphasized that it is crucial to remind state forces about their legal limits, and to hold the police accountable for these attacks on press freedom.  

“Sa haba-haba ng history ng struggle nating mga journalists para magbigay ng information, para ihayag ang mga nangyayari on-the-ground, ganito pa rin ka-repressive ‘yung mismong state forces. You will realize malaki yung kailangang i-hold into account.”

‘Journalism is NOT a crime’

UP journalism professor Maria Diosa Labiste likewise condemned the unreasonable arrest of those who covered the strike, maintaining that the journalists were only fulfilling their watchdog role.

“Yung journalism, illegal ba ‘yan? Na-criminalize na ba ‘yan ngayon for them to be arrested?” she said.

“Ayaw nila ng journalists because, of course, ang role ng journalists is to bring up the truth, and ayaw nila ng critical thinking, ayaw nila ma-expose yung ginagawa nila,” Labiste added.

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) chairperson Nonoy Espina also echoed the call for accountability from the police forces as well as from NutriAsia itself.

The arrested journalists, as well as one other who was struck with truncheons, were clearly identified either through credentials or by the work they were doing, he told TNP.

“Journalism is not a crime. That this was ignored shows how little respect and/or knowledge the authorities have for journalism and its place in a democracy,” Espina said.

Indignation in response

Students from the University of the Philippines-Diliman also staged indignation protests on Tuesday and earlier today to express outrage over the arrest of the journalists covering the strike, and tagged the move as a clear attack on press freedom.

“Malinaw na atake ito sa mga peryodista na namamahayag lamang ng katotohanan ng buhay ng mga manggagawa,” said Arry Asiddao, Vice Chairperson for Education of the Union of Journalists of the Philippines–UP.

Students also vehemently denounced the police brutality against the striking workers who were already subject to NutriAsia’s unfair labor practices.

“Ang pinapantapat ng pasistang estado sa mga plakard, sa mga hinaing, at sa mga panawagan ng mga manggagawa ay dahas,” said Nickolo Domingo of Anakbayan UP-Diliman.

Domingo then called on fellow Iskolars ng Bayan to stand with the workers and to assert their rights amidst the worsening climate of impunity in the country.

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