What gave police in Pandi, Bulacan, the right to storm into local office of an urban poor rights group and confiscate thousands of copies of Pinoy Weekly, a decidedly leftist news magazine that is critical of the government?
Perhaps emboldened by the recently passed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, about eight officers from the Pandi police station went to the office of the urban poor rights group Kadamay and seized the copies of Pinoy Weekly, stacking them into the back of their vehicle and driving off.
The magazine’s editor, Kenneth Roland Guda, said they asked for a search warrant, but were told the Pandi police chief, Capt. Jun Alejandro, that the magazines were “illegal” because they “teach people to fight the government.” Witnesses also heard the police chief warn Kadamay members to surrender the copies of the magazine “or something would happen.”
Guda said the police were "grossly ignorant of the law," as the copies were the property of the residents of the Pandi housing project and the members of Kadamay-Pandi.
"Seizing these copies without warrant or seizure order may constitute robbery. What PCpt Alejandrino and his men did was illegal… Either the police chief is ignorant of the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of the press and freedom of expression, or he chooses to trample upon it. Either way, he and his men are committing a crime," Guda said in a statement.
Kadamay also sent out a statement condemning the arrest of one of their leaders in Pandi, Rose Fortaleza, Saturday night.
"The cops entered Fortaleza’s home, arrested her and confiscated the group’s fliers along with issues of the alternative news publication, Pinoy Weekly," the statement said. Kadamay said Fortaleza remains detained at the Pandi police station without any formal charges.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines denounced Sunday’s raid.
"It is totally ludicrous for the police to justify what, to our mind, constitutes armed robbery by claiming, falsely, that Pinoy Weekly is illegal and teaches people to fight the government… Pinoy Weekly is a perfectly legal and legitimate news organization, just as are all the outfits that belong to the alternative media," they said.
NUJP said the incident was a "very clear example" of what the country could face from the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, adding that its "vague provisions grants too much leeway for interpretation by agents of the state who mistakenly believe their mission is to stifle criticism and dissent, not protect these as part of the people's basic rights."
The group called on the Philippine National Police to look into the matter and asked all policemen to review the law, especially the Bill of Rights.
Sunday’s raid is the first in recent history that agents of the law have confiscated copies of a publication that it deems is a threat to the government.
It is a direct assault on press freedom and must be condemned as such.
It would be wrong for those who do not share the leftist bent of Pinoy Weekly or Kadamay, to look the other way and to tell themselves that this was a legitimate action against rabble-rousers or a front for communist rebels.
Those who would do so should recall the poem based on the post-war confessional of an anti-communist German pastor, who stood silent as the Nazis rose to power and began to purge their chosen targets, group by group.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Indifference and cowardice are not options in the face of creeping tyranny. We must condemn the police actions in Pandi—before we hear jackboots on the streets of Metro Manila.