The Justice department says that will investigate the case of a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agent caught on video threatening a Rappler reporter for recording the arrest of her boss, Maria Ressa on Feb. 13.
We recommend that it does so quickly, and act swiftly to correct any the overzealousness and arrogance that the NBI agent in question clearly showed in a video that has been widely circulated on Twitter, not only here, but abroad.
The video feed records the conversation that Rappler reporter Aika Rey had with an unidentified NBI agent who tried to stop her from recording Ressa’s arrest, which was happening inside the Rappler office.
The exchange is not captured on video, because Rey apparently pointed her camera phone away when the agent approached her, but it is clearly captured on the audio track. Here is part of that conversation, after Rey asked him why she should stop recording the arrest.
NBI agent: Oh really? You really do not want to comply with our simple request? Come on, miss.
Rey: Are you getting my phone? You can’t get my phone.
NBI agent: Come on, be cooperative. Your boss is already talking to us. No need for that. I’m sure you do understand what I’m telling you, right? Oh great.
Rey: I mean, I’m not the only one doing it.
NBI agent: Yeah, but I’m talking to you right now. I’ll attend to them later, one by one.
Rey: Can you explain to me first…
NBI agent: Because I’m saying so.
Rey: And what will happen…?
NBI agent: It’s up to you. It’s our request. Please. OK, if you’re going to do the same banana…
Rey: I mean, maybe you can explain to me first…
NBI agent: No.
Rey: Why not?
The NBI agent then takes his camera phone and records Rey, to make his point.
Rey: Now you’re doing the same thing.
NBI agent: You asked for it.
Rey: Ummm, I don’t mind. (Laughs)
Unfortunately, the two-minute video excerpt that Rey shared on her Twitter account does not include this part of the conversation:
NBI agent: “Can you stop doing what you’re doing now? Is it okay? Oh great and tell the same thing to your colleague. Because definitely if we see our faces on the net, you’ll be sorry. You’ve been warned. We’ll go after you.”
Justice Undersecretary Mark Perete said the department will look into the incident and also talk to the NBI agents involved because they want a clear picture of what transpired to see if any violation took place.
This is all and good, but the video alone clearly records a law enforcer trying to stop a journalist from doing her job, inside her own place of employment. When asked for a reason, he offered no better explanation other than “because I’m saying so.” That does not cut it.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra himself has said that it is not illegal for journalists to record an ongoing arrest as long as they do not not interfere with the operation. It would be a stretch, indeed, to suggest that one person holding up a camera phone could seriously impede the arrest. In what is certainly a good sound byte, he has also said: “The DOJ will not file charges for the purpose of harassing journalists. Not under my watch.”
It is time that Secretary Guevarra put his money where his mouth is and took to task the overzealous NBI agent who was clearly overstepping his bounds by suppressing coverage of a legitimate news event.