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Media targeted under state of emergency; newspaper occupied by police, TV stations "protected" by military

(CMFR/IFEX) - Exactly 20 years after the restoration of democracy and press freedom in the country, local media is again under threat since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared a state of national emergency via Presidential Proclamation 1017 (PP1017) early in the morning of 24 February 2006.

Several hours after the declaration of PP1017, elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) descended upon the offices of the oppositionist national newspaper "The Daily Tribune" on T.M. Kalaw Street in the nation's capital, Manila, at approximately 12:30 a.m. (local time) on 25 February.

The police officers, of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and numbering about 15, took mock-up copies of the newspaper's Saturday edition - which bannered Arroyo's declaration - as well as several story drafts and photos.

Inspector Jonathan Pablito of the Police Community Relations Group based at the PNP's headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City, later confirmed that the police were tasked to secure "The Daily Tribune"'s offices "because it was a possible source of destabilization materials." Pablito clarified, however, that they were ordered not to impede the work of the publication's editorial staff and reporters.

Several staffers of "The Daily Tribune" said they were able to go to work as usual over the weekend, although they admitted being distracted by the presence of the police.

Policemen from national headquarters remained stationed inside the editorial and business offices of the newspaper, while operatives from the Manila Police District have been posted outside the building. Several law enforcers were also seen surrounding the premises of another pro-opposition newspaper, "Malaya", and its sister publication, the tabloid "Abante", reports said.

Presidential Chief of Staff Mike Defensor stressed that the government has not taken over "The Daily Tribune", but added that the "strong presence" of the police in the editorial offices of the newspaper will remain, to caution other media organizations not to aid those who want to overthrow the government.

In meetings with police officials, Defensor said it was agreed that the government would not interfere with the stories that the paper puts out.

"The Daily Tribune" has been consistently publishing reports critical of the Arroyo administration. Prior to its temporary seizure by the police, the publication released stories that several disgruntled military officers and leftists were gathering to mount a coup against Arroyo.

Arroyo declared PP1017 primarily to quell a rebellion allegedly instigated by renegade military officers and supported by civilian supporters and leftist groups wanting to topple the government. Arroyo is facing serious charges of election fraud, allegedly incurred in 2004.

Under the state of emergency, the government has the power to take over media facilities whose operations are deemed a risk to national security, Defensor claimed. PP1017 specifically invokes Section 17, Article 12 ( of the country's Constitution, which gives the president the power to "temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with public interest" in times of national emergency.

In the wake of the raid on "The Daily Tribune", Defensor professed the government is currently talking to owners and editors of other media organizations to clarify issues.

In the meantime, military personnel have been stationed outside broadcast network giants GMA Channel 7 and ABS-CBN Channel 2. According to the government, the military personnel is there "to protect" these media establishments in the event that lawless elements try to take control of them.

Defensor said police presence in media organizations is not a regular state policy. The proclamation which put the country under a state of emergency, said that some elements of the media are "recklessly" promoting the cause of those who want to overthrow the administration.

On 24 February, columnist Randy David, lawyer and "BusinessWorld" columnist Argee Guevarra, as well as 35 other militant leaders and academics, were held by the police for allegedly inciting sedition and leading several hundred protesters down Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares of Metro Manila. Guevarra was also the legal counsel of Marine colonel Ariel Querubin, one of the two top military officials charged with planning the botched coup attempt.

On the afternoon of 25 February, 15 hours after the raid on "The Daily Tribune", PNP Director General Arturo Lomibao warned that the police will take over news groups that do not conform to "standards set by the government." This is in accordance with Presidential General Order No. 5 (GO5), directing the country's armed forces - the military (Armed Forces of the Philippines, AFP) and PNP - to maintain "peace and order and prevent and suppress lawless violence."

As implied by GO5, reports or publications that hurt the government by "obstructing governance, including hindering the growth of the economy and sabotaging the people's confidence in government" will be subjected to review and possible prohibition, according to Lomibao. GO5 was issued pursuant to PP1017, calling upon the military and police to take direct control of the peace and order in the country.

Lomibao said that police will implement standards for media, as a small group of investigators and prosecutors will monitor the news.

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