Seares: Handcuffing journalists arrested for libel: how else must media be treated?

Seares: Handcuffing journalists arrested for libel: how else must media be treated?

“Ilonggo journalists are not whiners like Maria Ressa. We take libel in court minus the melodrama.”

--Luis Buenaflor Jr., in his column “Just Another Day” (Panay News, June 17, 2019)

LAST June 11, Iloilo’s chapter of NUJP (National Union of Journalists of the Philippines) questioned the “manner of arrest of two media personalities” in that city who were ”treated like dangerous and armed criminals.”

The two, arrested for libel by police separately in the first week of June, were Peter Jimenea, newspaper columnist and cable TV host, and Manuel Mejorada, blogger and block-time radio program host.

Jimenea was taken from Iloilo to San Jose, Antique and Mejorada from his house in Pavia, Iloilo to the town police station. Both were handcuffed, according to the story in “Panay News.”

Age, physical condition

NUJP Iloilo asked why they were handcuffed, given “their age, physical condition and stature in the community.” Mejorada is 60 and described as “portly” while Jimenea is also a senior (his age wasn’t specified) and a person with disability, a polio victim. NUJP Iloilo in its statement and Panay News columnist Luis Buenaflor Jr. in his column (with the heading “Handcuffs, really?”) protested that the two broadcasters were not flight risks and, again, not dangerous and armed. And the offense was bailable, not like, they said, “murder, drug trafficking, robbery or rape.”

Buenaflor wrote that the “melodrama and tension could’ve been avoided” if the police had contacted Jimenea and Mejorada about the pending warrants “so they could just surrender and post their bail.” It would’ve been more humane, Buenaflor said.


The complainants, sore at the two commentators, must have persuaded police to make the arrest tough for Jimenea and Mejorada.

A common get-even trick is to shame the broadcasters during the arrest, and do it at such time of the day as to delay bail and force the arrestee’s stint in jail.

The handcuffing that NUJP Iloilo riled against is too tempting to skip, especially if the idea is to hit back at “tormentors” in media. Two things that make it so: (1) it is allowed, even made a part of the arrest protocol and (2) discretion about its use is left to the arresting officer.

The PNP Manual of Operations speaks of securing the person to be arrested, not using unnecessary force, and taking the arrested person to the police station or jail. And PNP’s “Know Your Rights: Citizen’s Primer on Law Enforcement” instructs police “to secure the person to be arrested and use handcuffs for the protection of the arresting officer, other individuals or the arrested person himself.”

If handcuffs are not available, “other methods of restraint” may be used provided they shall not use “torture, force, violence, threats and intimidation and other means that vitiate free will.”

When it’s not used

Handcuffs will not be used on Rep. Imelda Marcos, PNP chief Oscar Albayalde said last November 2018 when asked about the arrest of the former First Lady. Imelda was convicted of seven counts of corruption arising from Swiss bank accounts she kept while she was a Cabinet member. She wouldn’t be handcuffed, Albayalde said, “any woman, especially old women, we don’t put them in handcuffs, especially if she does not have a history of violence.” (Imelda was never arrested; she was granted bail before the arrest order could be served.)

Apparently, it is up to the police to decide whether to use handcuffs. While they are supposed to be humane, they also have discretion to prefer their safety over other consideration.

Often, the manner of arrest sets off controversy. In Imelda’s case, not cuffing her was seen as concession to class and power although her age and medical condition also deserved the exception. As to the two Iloilo journalists, not cuffing them would have also set off criticism of special treatment.

Former Commission on Human Rights chief Loretta Rosales, weighing in on the Imelda issue, said “any citizen, young or old, rich or poor, of whatever sex or gender and political and religious affiliation must be treated humanely, respecting his or her human dignity.”

Sense of entitlement

Some journalists feel a sense of entitlement, expecting more courtesy, respect and privilege than that given to most other citizens who have brushes with the law. A number of reporters, editors and opinion writers believe that libel is an anachronism that should’ve been decriminalized a long time ago and thus resent when they run afoul with the law.

Still the hard reality is that libel remains a crime. And when a journalist is arrested on a complaint of libel, police are not required to treat him like a member of Congress or some other VIP. On the contrary, if the journalist has offended a powerful person, it is an occasion for striking back.

Police protocol most everywhere requires or allows use of handcuff, even for minor offenses. In the U.S., its Supreme Court ruled that a woman car driver could be cuffed for not using a seat belt.

In 2015, five journalists in Malaysia were cuffed during their arrest and the state court ruled that, despite presumption of innocence, it was valid restraint of detained persons.

“Not whiners”

Community journalists usually don’t complain anymore against being sued for libel, despite the hardships it brings. A list of those difficulties include the cost of defending the lawsuit, being dragged to faraway venues allowed by an oppressive law, and the accused often being left alone to fend for themselves.

Being handcuffed is collateral pain that must be in that list too. “We are not whiners,” wrote Buenaflor. Hail the Iloilo press for that.


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