Reporters and the Writ of Amparo

It’s good that media personalities in Manila are going to the Supreme Court to clear the air on the arrest of reporters during the Manila Pen siege by Sen. Antonio Trillanes and Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim in November last year. The High Court and not the media is the most credible institution to rule over the legality or illegality of the arrests.

Reporters filed a petition Monday for a writ of amparo to declare as illegal their arrests and to stop the government from doing the same in similar media coverage in the future. The writ of amparo is a legal concept adopted by the High Court in July last year following the unabated extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances in the country.

It would be interesting to find out how the SC will rule on the petition, especially in tying the hands of the government relative to the actuation of media people during coup attempts. The Department of Justice has issued a warning to reporters that if they act the same way—refuse to leave a siege site—government will have to arrest them.

I agree that as much as possible we should widen not constrict the space within which media people operate. In this case, government should not be allowed to dictate on media how it should cover events like the Manila Pen siege. If reporters want to die covering rebel soldiers while government troops assault a siege site, then so be it.

But while government should not be given legal weapons to stifle the freedom of the press, media people, too, should be conscious of the great responsibility that freedom carries. The right to inform the public must not be blindly pursued without weighing its consequences to the reporters themselves and their loved ones and to the common good.

Media people in Manila, for example, have been very critical of what the government did during the Manila Pen siege but I still have to hear of them holding a forum to assess their actuation at that time. That coverage raised many questions and I am sure not all media practitioners in the country agree to the manner it was conducted.

The more media insists on widening the space within which it operates, the more should it be conscious of its conduct in the practice of such freedom. If not, it will be alienated from the public who now seem to be critical of the privileges media acquired. Loss of public support for media will give government the daring to stifle press freedom.

This came out in my January 24, 2008 Candid Thoughts column in Sun.Star Cebu

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