Editorial: To be treated as professionals

TO GRAB another person’s property is the mark of the unschooled. For a government official to order such is the mark of the uncouth. But that is what was manifested by the chief of the Department of Psychiatry of the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) when at the height of the fire that gobbled up the old building along J.P. Laurel Avenue, he ordered his men to accost Sun.Star Davao photographer King Rodriguez, grab his camera, and delete photos there. From the journalists’ accounts, this mental hospital chief also threatened some other cameramen. Threats seem so easy to dispense in that part of the city.

Even security officers like policemen and soldiers searching for contraband and guns are not allowed to touch someone else’s stuff. The protocol is to ask the motorist to open their glove compartment or open their bags. Security guards are not allowed to touch things inside a bag, and so they have a stock, but will only pick through with the stick when the bag owner has opened the bag. But the guys at mental hospital believe they have all the right to grab another person’s property and even destroy what is inside. By what right are they doing that?

Sun.Star have always lived up to the highest standards, constantly reminding staff to maintain credibility, publish what is of public interest, and use photos that enhance stories but do not degrade.

We have consistently abided by all the laws that have prohibitions against publications. Not one among those laws prohibits photographs of fire victims or the backs of psychiatric patients. Even prisoners are allowed to be photographed from behind. That is a protocol, we, as professional journalists, knew so well.

There was a fire going on in a public property that is of great public interest. Having unleashed their men to grab a photographer and delete his photos can only drive us to ask, “What are you hiding?”

The most disturbing reality, however, is that, if a psychiatric department’s personnel can gang up on one professional in top mental health who could have easily been asked to please not do something or please do not go there and has all the mental faculties to recall what he was subjected to, how much worse can they handle the mentally disturbed who may be unable to stand up in defense of their rights or even voice out their complaints?

The mere thought holds a lot of scary possibilities; we wonder what SPMC Director Dr. Leopoldo J. Vega can say about this. The least we can expect of government health service providers is professionalism, and yes, good manners, in the same way that that is the least we expect of our people in Sun.Star Davao. Apologies are definitely in order, plus assurance that what happened to our photographer is not how people at the Psychiatry Department treat people. We are waiting.

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