Police focal persons tasked to secure media during elections season

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 29)— As the campaign season for the May elections begins, the government has appointed focal persons within the police force to serve as "vanguards" to protect media workers, an official said on Saturday.

"Sa pag-aaral namin, nagkakaroon ng spike sa media violence before, during, and after elections," Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco of the Presidential Communications Operations Office told a Laging Handa briefing.

[Translation: In our research, there have been spikes in media violence before, during, and after elections]

In the Philippine National Police (PNP), there are 133 of these "media security vanguards" from public information offices who will serve as point persons for media workers to reach out to in case they need security assistance.

"Halimbawa, may threat or risk sa kanilang buhay, of course, we have the mechanism na tulungan ang ating kababayan, 'di lamang ang members ng media; but this time around, there is a dedication and focus na kailangan talagang mabigyan sila ng atensyon," said Police Brig. Gen. Roderick Alba, speaking for the PNP in the same briefing.

[Translation: If they face a threat or risk to their lives, of course, we have the mechanisms to help our people, not just members of the media; but this time around, there is a dedication to give them the attention they need.]

Alba explained that he will be the chief focal person for media safety assistance nationwide and will be joined by regional and local public information officers. The police stations will be the operating arm that will confirm and validate complaints, he added.

He said authorities are prepared to carry out arrests if needed.

"[K]ung kailangang hulihin iyong mga taong nire-reklamo, mayroon tayong enough evidence ay we could do warrantless arrest or kung mayroong nag-file ng kaso, may warrant of arrest ay pwede po nating hulihin," Alba said.

[Translation: If we need to apprehend them, if there's enough evidence, we could do warrantless arrest, or if someone filed a case and there's a warrant of arrest, we can arrest them.]

Gun ban exemption

Egco said media workers may also apply for exemption to the gun ban.

He explained that these measures are necessary to avoid another deadly incident such as the Maguindanao massacre in 2009, wherein 58 people were killed, including 32 media workers, due to an election-related attack.

National candidates for the elections (president, vice president, senator, and party-list groups) may officially start campaigning on Feb. 8, while local candidates (members of House of Representatives, provincial, city, and municipal officials) may begin on March 25.