The case of teacher Ronnel Mas has, for unfortunate reasons, placed media in the spotlight.
This is because, while the prosecutor ruled that his warrantless arrest by the National Bureau of Investigation was invalid, this was subsequently “cured” by what was described as the teacher’s “confession” in an interview with media in which he admitted the post offering P50 million to kill President Rodrigo Duterte.
We leave it to legal experts to debate the legality of Mas’ “confession.”
But we are concerned that media, by interviewing arrestees without their counsel present, may find themselves abetting possible miscarriages of justice.
Rules regarding the presentation of suspects, especially those against their identification before formal charges have been filed, have been propounded again and again, including by the Philippine National Police, most recently in June 2018.
Unfortunately, these rules have invariably been discarded and even the PNP regularly presents witnesses without counsel.
We therefore appeal to news organizations to include in their reporting manuals rules against interviewing arrested persons unless their counsel are present and allow such interviews. As journalists, it is our duty not to cause or minimize harm.
Let these provisions of the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution be our guide:
“Section 14. (1) No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law.
(2) In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved…”