EXPLAINER: Ruckus over arrest of DYHP’s Arnold Bustamante: Cybercrime Group tagged him a 'wanted person' (he wasn’t, under PNP rules) and claimed a 'Tracker Team' was needed to catch him (probably not). Central issue remains: Did he utter libelous words in his radio program?

Contributed photos
Contributed photos

THE sector of Cebu media that has been complaining about the behavior of the Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) regarding the September 23, 2022 arrest of Cebu broadcaster Arnold Bustamante on the charge of cyber-libel is asking why:

[1] The ACG, through its chief Brigadier General Joel Doria, “made it appear” that Bustamante “evaded arrest like a hardened criminal” and ACG “exerted so much effort to arrest” him.

[2] The police released “pitiable” mug shots of Bustamante, showing him in an orange t-shirt with the acronym ACG on the detainee uniform’s front.

The questions don’t relate to the central dispute in the coming court trial: whether Bustamante’s warning in his November 8, 2021 radio program on DYHP -- telling the public not to buy specified herbal products from La Nueva retail stores because they could be fake -- constituted a crime.

‘LYING’ AND THE OTHER COMPLAINT. Atty. Ruphil Bañoc, general manager of DYHP RMN-Cebu and himself a radio commentator and newspaper columnist, followed his earlier statement in behalf of the broadcast company with an opinion column Friday, September 30 in The Freeman, titled “General Doria’s blatant lies.”

Also, the Defense-PNP Press Corps (DEPP), through its vice president Nestle Semilla of DYLA, last Tuesday, September 27 condemned (a) police “sensationalizing” the incident, through the claimed “Tracker Team” to arrest Bustamante, (b) release of his mug photo and (c) Doria’s commendation of his men, to make it appear, Bañoc wrote, “that it exerted so much effort in the arrest.”

WAS ARNOLD A ‘WANTED PERSON’? Under the revised guidelines on the arrest of wanted persons (PNP Memo-Circular 022-028, March 11, 2022), a “wanted person” is a person who is “a fugitive from justice, either convicted or accused of a crime and hiding in order to avoid arrest from law enforcement units.” Under the same rules, a “tracker team” (TT), which the ACG said it had formed to catch Bustamante, is a police team specifically organized to arrest wanted persons.

Did the broadcaster “hide in order to avoid arrest,” which would’ve justified the tag of “wanted person” and supported the unleashing of a TT to capture him?

DYHP posted bail on the morning of Friday, September 23, 2022, the day the warrant was issued, with the required papers such as the barangay captain’s certification and a verified map of his house. That would “prove that Arnold was prepared already to post bail even before the judge issued the warrant,” Atty. Bañoc told Explainer Friday, September 30.

Bañoc wrote in his column that Bustamante “voluntarily went to court to post bail” and “allowed” the ACG “to go with him instead of” any other police unit because the broadcaster believed “the ACG could help facilitate the posting of bail.”

If a TT or Tracker Team was used to catch Bustamante, he must have been a Most Wanted Person (MWP) who, the PNP rules define, is “the most notorious” among the wanted persons, “whose arrest is prioritized and most sought as this will provide relief and comfort to the community.” Bustamante, based on what’s shown so far, wouldn’t qualify as “wanted person,” let alone an MWP.

[RELATED: DYHP’s Arnold Bustamante was ‘ordered’ by an advertiser to warn buyers about a retailer selling ‘fake’ herbal products. Media’s Public, September 29, 2022.]

NOT ‘SENSATIONAL’ UNDER PNP DEFINITION. DEPP has complained that the police unit ACG has “sensationalized” the Bustamante case. But isn’t the case that of a sensational crime? It is not, if one goes by police definition under the 2022 PNP revised rules on arrests.

Cases are sensational, the document says, when the crime is (a) “committed by/or against elected government officials appointed by the president, judges, prosecutors, members of the Philippine bar, media practitioners, along with militants party-list members/activists, labor leaders, foreign nationals and other persons,” (b) by means of shooting, bombing, strafing, enforced disappearance and other violent acts, resulting in death or incapacity,” which (c) “attracts national/international public and/or media attention of scrutiny.”

Bustamante’s case won’t qualify because of the absence of the element of violence. That, despite his high profile, as president of DEPP and as president of Cebu Federation of Beat Journalists (CFBJ).

THOSE MUG SHOTS. The 2011 PNP standard operating procedure (SOP) on booking of arrested suspects says that “in high-profile cases, mug shots may also be published by the media.”

But the 2022 PNP guidelines on arrest and accounting of suspects do not mention publication of mug shots although the revised rules ban presentation of suspects to the media in a “firing line,” or the so-called “perp walk.”

Publication of a suspect holding up a cardboard showing name, crime and criminal case number was described as “cruel, degrading, or inhuman” by lawyers of then-senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who was arrested in July 2014 for allegedly pocketing P172 million in pork barrel. Atty. Bañoc described the image in Bustamante’s mug shot as “pitiable.”

Practice of the “humiliation” has been uneven. While Enrile was spared, his fellow senator Jinggoy Estrada’s mug shot was “leaked” to the media.

It isn’t clear yet whether Bustamante’s “booking photo” was officially released or leaked.

PNP ON RULE OF LAW, HUMAN RIGHTS. In addition to the prohibition on “firing line presentation (of arrested persons” to the media,” PNP’s 2002 revised rules on arrest of wanted persons include these “coordinating instructions”:

[] Rule of Law and respect for Human Rights (capitalized by PNP) “shall always be observed in the arrest of WPs.”

[] Coordination with the court that issued the warrant and mandatory use of at least one body-worn camera and one alternative recording device.

‘POSTER BOY.’ While Atty. Bañoc and DEPP, the police-military press group, have complained of “unfair treatment” to Bustamante, they haven’t filed a formal complaint. It’s not known if Bañoc’s official statement and DEPP’s “position letter” were sent as complaints to PNP, aside from being publicized.

In their statement and letter, they also didn’t see the incident as a case of violation of press freedom, at least, for now, they limited their condemnation to the behavior of the Anti-Cybercrime Group after the arrest.

Atty. Bañoc told Explainer they “didn’t expect the ACG to make Arnold as their poster boy, when he has been covering that beat for 20 years already.” In his Freeman column Friday, Bañoc deplored the “fabrication” of General Doria’s version of the arrest, concluding with, “I believe that the well-meaning members of the media in Cebu are alarmed.”

All that, of course, will have nothing to do with the central legal dispute: Were Bustasmante’s utterances on air -- and on Facebook and YouTube -- criminally offensive?


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