Chilling effect

There was a time not too long ago when most local movies almost always ended with the arrival of policemen at the crime scene after the lead star had obliterated all the goons, indicating that the film has reached its climax.

Funny, but this says a lot about how cops have been seen then that it needed an image overhaul before they can even come near to what their slogan describes them — that they are there to serve and protect.

Without saying so, the job of policemen is to risk their lives to ensure the public’s safety and the protection of their property.

Personal experiences with the police force, however, have molded a negative image of the supposed protectors of the people.

Their involvement in various crimes did not help any. Name them — kidnapping, drug distribution, smuggling — some of them have all been part of those shenanigans that you can’t blame people for giving them low trust ratings when survey time comes around.

While most of the bad eggs have either been sacked or transferred jurisdiction, the fact that they remain distant in people’s perceptive index is something that should be looked into by the government.

When former President Rodrigo R. Duterte waged his controversial war on drugs, the police force became the central figure in that bloody fight against the purveyors of the illicit trade, with most victims crying for justice and accusing their tormentors of violating human rights.

Tokhang, which literally means knocking on the doors of drug suspects and telling them to stop their trade, became a byword with negative connotations.

Instead of simply being the codename of the government’s campaign against the vice, tokhang has become synonymous with death during an anti-illegal drug operation.

Rather than just knocking on the doors of suspected drug pushers, Oplan Tokhang became something else as thousands died in the anti-drug operations supposedly because the suspects fought back.

Memories of those tokhang days came rushing back as plainclothes police officers made unannounced visits to the homes of journalists over the weekend, triggering howls of protest among the working media and causing backlash online.

The visits were allegedly in response to the murder of radioman Percy Lapid and the subsequent online threats toward journalists referencing the murder.

The National Capital Region Police Office defended the visits as being done in good faith and without malice.

“The police are your partners. We are here to serve the public. The order was to reach out and gauge and see how our friends in the media if there are threats on them based on their profession,” a statement from NCRPO said as it admitted that the police asked barangay officials for the addresses of journalists in their localities.

In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said the “home visits” ended up contributing to the media people’s anxiety and defeating the purpose of making the journalists feel safe against possible threats.

While welcoming the Philippine National Police’s concern, the NUJP questioned the decision to show up out of uniform.

“It’s concerning that they’re doing police operations out of uniform. It could set a precedent for people who pretend to be cops,” it said. “It does sound a little bit like profiling, and it could easily crossover to surveillance. People who claim to be police officers can just come to your house and invade your privacy.”

Indeed, crusading journalists need police protection from threats and harm, not an intrusion into their privacy. While the intention is noble, the way the police conducted the operation left much to be desired.

If at all, the operation proved to be veiled harassment that only sent a chilling effect to members of the Fourth Estate.


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