Lawmaker files bill vs suspects’ presentation to the media


By Jun A. Malig

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CITY OF SAN FERNANDO — Pampanga Third District Representative Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales Jr. has filed a bill seeking to prohibit the presentation of criminal suspects to the media.

Gonzales, who formally filed House Bill (HB) 1239 at the House of Representatives last July 23, found an ally in newly appointed Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Jesus Versoza, whose first official directive was for police officials to stop such a practice.

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The full title of the lawmaker’s bill is “An Act Prohibiting the Presentation to the Press or Public of Suspects in Criminal Investigations before Cases are Formally Filed Against the Suspects.”

In his explanatory note, Gonzales said law enforcement agencies usually present suspects in a press conference while announcing that the case has been solved. He said such procedure violates some fundamental rights of the suspects.

“While an accused enjoys due process and the constitutional presumption of innocence, a suspect who is presented in a press conference is subjected to unwanted publicity. Even if the charges, if at all filed, are later dismissed, the zeal of our law enforcers in showing they are on top of the case could besmirch the name and reputation of a suspect or his/her family,” the congressman said.

Gonzales said public presentation before formal charges are filed against criminal suspects violates their human dignity.

Under the bill, any person who violates the law will face not less than six months and one day imprisonment or a fine of P20,000, or both. If the offender is a member of a law enforcement agency or a lawyer, the penalty to be imposed “shall be six years and one day to eight years.”

The proposed law only allows the posting of names and photographs of criminal suspects at large in order to facilitate their arrest.

Media interviews will be allowed only “upon the suspect’s written consent with assistance of counsel.” It states that, “no interview shall be allowed without the presence of (the suspect’s) counsel unless the suspect waives such privilege in writing.”

The bill allows law enforcers who have custody of the suspect to inform the public only of the circumstances as regards the suspect’s arrest “but should not include the identity and personal circumstances of the suspect.”

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan described as “an impressive start” Versoza’s ban on presenting criminal suspects to the media.

“He has hit the ground running. That is exactly the kind of leader needed by law enforcement: Decisive in thought and action. The police should do their jobs first before they put their best forward to the public. Their job is to enforce the law. They should remember that,” the senator said in a statement.

The new PNP chief’s first directive after assuming command last Saturday was to curb persistent abuse of criminal suspects through public humiliation and physical violence.

Though the official memorandum order was still to be issued, two Muntinlupa City policemen were already under investigation for possible violation of the directive.

Versoza said they would be made responsible for tolerating a brawl between an accuser and the accused while being covered by media.

“Such practices must stop. Until proven in court, an individual is presumed innocent by our constitution. This is something that should have been implemented a long time ago. That it has to be covered by yet another rule proves that the PNP truly needs reforms,” added Pangilinan.

Three months ago, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Leila de Lima described the law enforcement agency as the prime violator of human rights in the country. Versoza’s first directive is said to be a response to this. (SunStar)

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