THE shooting to death of PDEA agent Von Rian Tecson last Wednesday, Aug. 8 in Perelos, Carcar City also resulted in the wounding of one of four assailants on motorcycles and a van after Tecson fired back. His companions reportedly took the injured assassin with them and fled.
News reporters assumed that the injured person was taken to a hospital or clinic. He is not just a suspect of a major crime but also a possible witness who can identify the company of killers. With the suspicion raised by Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña that the ambushers were police, the wounded suspect is a vital witness, crucial to resolving the question of alleged police involvement.
But verifying that from a hospital or any other medical facility would not be easy, even for a matter of public interest such as a violent crime. At least for the media.
Law, police access
During martial law, then president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. issued Presidential Decree #169, dated April 4, 1973, which required a hospital, clinic or any other medical facility that treated any person for serious or less serious physical injuries to report it by “the fastest means of communication” to the Philippine Constabulary.
That was apparently the martial law administrators’ way of keeping track on violent crimes during the emergency period. But that, or an equivalent law, must still be in force although the reporting may no longer be as quick as the PD required. To the police this time; the PC has long been defunct.
Under the 2013 PNP Field Manual on Investigating Crimes of Violence and Other Crimes, a police officer shall go “immediately” to the hospital, medical facility or clinic to seize or retrieve the clothes of the victim or suspect and collect and preserve traces of evidence, aside from giving an alcohol or drug test and a paraffin test to the patient.
Right of privacy
Also relevant is the right of the patient to privacy and confidentiality. Hospitals and their workers, including doctors, nurses, staff, orderlies and phone operators, are bound to uphold it under pain of administrative and criminal sanction. Only a court order when public safety requires it or a waiver by the patient can make the medical source open up.
As to submitting to police inquiry, the disclosure is to the police, not to media. As in any other aspect of police investigation, information goes to the law enforcer. Media cannot compel the doctor or the staff of the facility that treated to disclose information.
It is up to the news reporter’s enterprise or diligence to get the facts from the investigators or other sources.
Control on ‘facts’
The police controls the flow of information. That may seem awkward and potentially conflicting on interests: after all, it’s the police that are the suspects in the killing -- which a mayor no less, not a street loiterer, has raised -- and they can choose what story to tell.
The wounded shooter might have been taken to the hospital or might have already died. His story might clear the police of suspicion -- or expose the alleged police hand in the killings, which is the sticky part. Media, and the public it serves, might never know, not from him.
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Abbey Canturias’s libel
Aniceto “Abbey” Canturias was charged with cyber libel for what he in 2015 wrote on Facebook against Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña who, he alleged, recklessly drove a car that struck a woman in Lapu-Lapu City. He was convicted and sentenced to a jail term of four-to-eight years.
It made no difference that when he wrote the “offensive” material, he was no longer a journalist but was a propagandist, among his other tasks as executive assistant of then mayor Mike Rama. The law does not distinguish between a libel by a working journalist and a libel by any other person who vents his ire through social media.
Is Canturias denied his constitutional right to bail? Canturias may have just failed to do what the exercise of the right requires.