The local media and the criminal justice system

Last Dec. 2, 2021, through email and personal delivery, the Catanduanes Tribune received a letter addressed to the publisher-editor from Provincial Prosecutor Mary Jane L. Zantua.

As the letter could not be accommodated in the Op-Ed page for lack of space, we have decided to include it as part of this editorial:

“The article entitled, Shabu suspects’ kin fall victim to extortion, with the subheading, Suspect used identity of judges, prosecutor, appearing in the December 1, 2021 issue of the Catanduanes Tribune contained a factual error that needs to be corrected immediately.

The news article reported that “A woman who used the identity of two judges and the provincial prosecutor managed to swindle thousands of pesos from the families of several suspects arrested in recent anti-illegal drug operations” and claimed that “[flor her third target, she chose the Virac couple who was nabbed with P408, OOO worth of shabu at a bus terminal the other Monday, Nov. 22, and took on the identity ofProvincial Prosecutor Mary Jane L. Zantua on the phone. “

Contrary to what the Catanduanes Tribune reported, the suspect did not use the identity of Provincial Prosecutor Mary Jane L. Zantua but claimed to be a prosecutor named “Angela Reyes”.

Attached as annexes are copies of the following:

  1. Philippine National Police Incident Record Form;
  2. Blotter Certification on Entry No. 2021-11-4331 issued by the Virac Municipal Police Station;
  3. Letter received by the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Catanduanes (OPP Catanduanes) from police investigator PSMS Louie Garcia on November 24, 2021 stating that “a certain Atty. Angela Reyes who identified herself as prosecutor” asked Mr. Adel Sarmiento Arcilla “to send money in consideration for the dismissal of the case of his brother who was apprehended” for violation of Republic Act No. 9165; and
  4. Certification dated November 24, 2021 issued by OPP Catanduanes stating that “no person named ANGELA REYES has been appointed prosecutor or staff of the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Catanduanes under the National Prosecution Service of the Department of Justice.”

OPP Catanduanes added that prosecutors are required to be members of the Philippine Bar and a list of all lawyers admitted to the Philippine Bar is available at the Supreme Court website sc.judiciary.gov.ph. The name ANGELA REYES does not appear in the lawyers’ list. Not being a lawyer or member of the Philippine Bar, the person purporting to be ANGELA REYES is not a prosecutor.

A newspaper that still aims at a reputation for accuracy will make an honest, timely and public admission of error.

We hope that the Catanduanes Tribune is such a newspaper.

Very truly yours,

 

MARY JANE L. ZANTUA

Provincial Prosecutor

 

Indeed, this public apology from the Tribune is due to the honorable Provincial Prosecutor as well as the reading public.

We are honestly sorry  for the factual inaccuracy.

We likewise seek your kind understanding that this apology could not be made timely, for the following reasons:

  1. As the Tribune is not a daily newspaper, it could conceivably issue the public apology on the day its next issue comes out, which is today, Dec. 8, 2021.
  2. From information supplied to us by a reliable source at the Hall of Justice, we tried to confirm the incidents with the concerned police stations as well as one of the victims but could only get sketchy reports.
  3. It was only through the honorable provincial prosecutor’s letter and its attachments that the Tribune was able to learn that the suspected extortionist posed as a lawyer and not either of the two judges or the prosecutor.

Unlike the provincial prosecutor, members of the local media do not have automatic access to the police blotter these days. Under the PNP’s Freedom of Information (FOI) policy, one has to apply for such access with the FOI officer, subject to the approval of the chief of police.

If we only had access to the same report made by PSMS Louie Garcia, to whom we sent a request, we could have reported the incident accurately.

Neither of the three police stations furnished the Tribune a copy of the incident report or even verbally describe how the scam was done.

For nearly two years now, the local media has been urging the Catanduanes police to scrap its policy of not identifying suspects in crime incidents (except those involving incestuous sexual offenses) when its counterparts in the Bicol region and even the regional police office are not complying with the Camp Crame directive.

There are even times when reports on some significant incidents are no longer released by the police.

To say the least, this has made the job of the media more difficult, with the Tribune choosing not to publish the PNP’s reports sans the names of the suspects.

This is not say that the Tribune should be forgiven for publishing the shabu case extortion incident based on inaccurate information.

Far from getting off scot-free, we should bear the burden of whatever credibility this paper lost among its readers as a result of the erroneous report.

As the Tribune figuratively flays its battle-scarred back, we call on the Catanduanes police to be more open to the local media, and by extension to the public they both serve.

The same appeal goes to those working in the Hall of Justice, as the media serves the public’s interest in how crimes are uncovered and dealt with by the criminal justice system.

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