THE House bill banning live media coverage on crisis situations might “affect freedom of information,” a top police official said in a forum held at Camp Sergio Osmeña yesterday.

“We need to study this carefully,” Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Director Ager Ontog Jr. said of the bill that Rep. Luigi Quisumbing (Cebu, 6th district) planned to file in Congress.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

Quisumbing’s bill seeks to ban live coverage of police and military actions during a crisis, such as hostage-takings and coup attempts, as this may jeopardize the government’s responses.

Ontog said police should “apply transparency in dealing with media.” “We recognize the importance of media to resolve issues,” he added.

But Atty. Zandro Ronnie Oriol of the National Police Commission (Napolcom) 7 said the “right to information has limits.”

Oriol said a “protocol” must be followed by the media and the government during crisis situations “to protect the citizens.”

Responses

Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) Director Erson Digal said he “partly blamed” the media for the failure to resolve the hostage crisis.

Defense-PNP Press Corps president and Sun.Star reporter Jovy Taghoy-Gerodias said there was “never an advisory from the PNP on what to cover” during the hostage crisis.

If such hostage scenario would happen in Cebu, Gerodias said the media here will be “professional” in handling the situation.

PRO 7’s Police Community Relations Chief Anthony Obenza said the “media in Cebu are different.”

“(They are) adaptive and will listen to police advisories,” he added.

As some local officials condoled with the families of the victims, some proposed more training and the purchase of gear for the local police.

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said she wants the Special Reaction Unit (SRU) team to receive training from experts from countries that have a proven track record in handling emergency situations.

She mentioned Israel and the United States of America.

She asked Digal to find resource speakers and trainers to conduct the training.

She also instructed Digal to submit a list of additional equipment that will be needed by the SRU.

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama proposed the setting up of a command center, where all stakeholders in an emergency situation will converge to deal with a crisis as a team.

Councilor Augustus Pe Jr., who heads the committee on public order and safety, proposed a continuous training for the police in handling emergency situations.

He wants policemen to be trained as hostage negotiators.

The councilor said they will also buy additional gear.

Outgoing Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) Director Patrocinio Comendador Jr. earlier disclosed the city police lack fiber optic cameras and night vision goggles, among others.

Pe is waiting for Special Weapons and Tactics Chief Arnel Banzon to submit to his office the list of necessary equipment.

Mandaue City Police Office Director Noel Gillamac admitted his office still lacks the basic equipment for crisis situations.

They only have a few pieces of Kevlar helmets and vests.

Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes, Gillamac said, assured to assist the local police in procuring more gear.

Digal said Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia vowed to provide the provincial police with more equipment.

Lapu-Lapu City Police Office Director Mariano Natu-el said they have the most “equipped and sophisticated” Swat team in Central Visayas.

Apart from the basic equipment like vests, shields, helmets, Lapu-Lapu Swat members are equipped with night vision goggles and communication gadgets.

Meanwhile, Ontog reacted to a report of a Hong Kong-based newspaper that criticized the policemen.

“It’s very easy to say that when you’re not in the line of fire,” he said. “It’s not good to hear those things.”

However, Ontog said he understood the feelings of Chinese nationals because of what happened.

Obenza said the hostage crisis should serve as a lesson.

Capitol flew its flag at half-staff to participate in the national day of mourning yesterday.

The governor said she will see to it that she will extend her hand to China and attend the Shanghai Expo.

She said in Cebu, "we will continue to prove that we are this bright spot and continue to be a beacon of hope for the rest of the country."

Ontog assured there will be no violent hostage-taking under his watch.

He said he would focus on capability enhancement and providing equipment to the police in Central Visayas.

To ease apprehensions of tourists in the region, Ontog issued a directive last Tuesday to intensify police visibility and constant patrolling in tourist spots.

If the need arises, Ontog said tourists may request for police escorts.

Rama is extending his condolences to the families of the victims of the hostage-taking, which he described as “shocking, revealing and worth pondering.”

He said the City would allow the use of Plaza Sugbu as a venue for those who wish to offer prayers and flowers for the victims. (KAL/RSA/ETB/JTG)