Police browbeat Perspective photojournalist, threatened to confiscate his camera while covering a protest.
By Dean Carlo Valmeo
An officer of the Calamba Philippine National Police (PNP) threatened to confiscate the DSLR camera of UPLB Perspective photojournalist James Jericho Bajar while covering a protest action on Tuesday, June 30, in Calamba City, Laguna.
According to Andie Laurio, a coordinator of College Editors Guild of the Philippines – Southern Tagalog (CEGP-ST), the cop also warned to file charges against Bajar — a bona fide Perspective staffer and member of the press — for merely taking photos.
A source who witnessed the incident identified the officer who intimidated the journalist and protesters as Police Maj. Dexter Domingo of Calamba PNP, together with four policemen in a SWAT uniform.
“Gusto mo ba kumpiskahin ko ‘yang camera mo?”
According to Bajar, the police arrived in mid-program to order the protesters to stop the demonstration immediately. This was when he decided to document the confrontation between Calamba PNP and demonstrators.
“Bilang press, pumunta ako sa side na yun para ma-document just in case may mangyari. Pumunta din sa side na iyon ang mga organizers nung rally tapos kinausap nila yung mga pulis. Basically, at that time, pinapatigil na yung rally. Habang naguusap sila, madami kami doon na kumukuha ng litrato at videos,” he said.
Bajar told Perspective that when Domingo noticed that he was taking photos, the cop pointed him out, approached him and said, “Gusto mo ba kumpiskahin ko ‘yang camera mo?”
“Sinabi niya yun in a loud and intimidating tone,” Bajar said.
That’s when the journalist decided to turn off his camera and just cover the other parts of the program. “Hindi na ako sinundan ng pulis,” he added.
Laurio shared that aside from Bajar, reporters from Bulatlat and Manila Today also experienced intimidation from cops during the program.
“Dinuro niya [Domingo] rin si Justin Umali ng Bulatlat na itigil pag-co-cover niya. Sinabi ni Justin na media siya at pinakita ni Justin yung ID niya pero wala raw siyang pakialam. Dinuro niya rin yung isang Manila Today na correspondent. Habang nag-ne-negotiate, nakabilog na rin talaga yung mga kasama niyang SWAT sa mga nakikipag-usap sa kanya,” Laurio recalled.
Five minutes or dispersal
Among those who negotiated with the police were Laurio, Casey Cruz of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Southern Tagalog (BAYAN-ST), and Miguel Portea of the Southern Tagalog Regional Transport Sector (STARTER-PISTON).
Laurio also recalled how their negotiation with the cops fell on deaf ears: “Hindi pa kami nagsasalita, pinagduduro niya na yung mga nagdodocument at nagcocover na media and student pub.”
“We were trying to negotiate na matatapos na rin naman which is true. Pero hindi talaga nakikinig si Domingo. Very decisive sila na paalisin at idisperse yung mob kahit may social distancing,” she said.
Despite pleas to let them finish the program, Calamba PNP’s Domingo pointed to his wristwatch and ordered them to immediately wrap up in five minutes, Laurio said.
“Ayan tumatakbo na yung oras ngayon. ‘Pag hindi pa kayo umalis within 5 minutes, alam niyo na kung anong mangyayari. On the way na reinforcement namin,” the policeman told Laurio, implying a violent dispersal and possible arrest of the protesters.
Failed to respect free press
Laurio has slammed the move of PNP saying that the “harassment showed how fascist they are” and that they “failed to respect” the free press and instead, were threatened with arrests and charges.
“Yung nangyari kanina ay mas nagpapalakas loob pa sa mga mamamayang lumalaban. Hindi magpapatinag ang mga mamamayan sa panghaharass at pag-intimidate ng mga pasistang pulis katulad ni Domingo,” she said.
“Imbes, mas nagbibigay galit at lakas na magpatuloy para ipanawagan at ipaalam sa taumbayan yung kaharasan at kahirapan na nararanasan ng mamamayan sa ika-apat na taon ni Duterte,” Laurio added.
The protest action was held by multisectoral groups from the Southern Tagalog region to condemn the fourth year anniversary of President Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency. Among their calls were to #JunkTerrorBill, #MassTestingNow, and #NoToJeepneyPhaseout.
Just last June 26, a Pride march protest in Mendiola, Manila was violently dispersed by police, where 20 individuals were arrested despite practicing COVID-19 measures such as physical distancing and wearing of face masks.
An intern of Manila Today was also almost arrested that day because cops mistook the journalist as a protester since he was wearing a University of the Philippines (UP) jacket. [P]