OFFLINE: When good intentions aren’t good enough

The Philippine National Police has a thing or two to learn about good public relations.

Over the weekend, media practitioners were ‘visited’ by police officers, ostensibly to check if they were all right, and free from potential harm, or if they had, in fact, received any threats of late.

The PNP had quietly begun a program of visiting journalists not at their places of work, but in their private residences.

The worst part is that the cops who were assigned the task of inspecting the mediamen were in civilian attire. They simply knocked on the doors of their target – maybe that’s the wrong word, huh? – to check if they were all good and dandy.

They were not, of course.

As a media practitioner myself in a Philippine setting, circa 2022, I will be the first to admit that such a visit is most unwelcome. I mean, most cops have paunches or even bulging tummies, but their handguns are still quite visible.

Now imagine a middle aged, pot-bellied man with a gun tucked to his waist then knocking on your door. What would be the first thing that comes to your mind?

He may say he is a cop, and he may even flash a badge or ID, but those things can be purchased anywhere in downtown Manila. He could be a hired killer out to end one’s ability to report the news or write an opinion that is certain to make certain powerful people very unhappy.

This was the first thing that came to the mind of a broadcast journalist from one of the large networks, and he was shaken up by the experience.

The supposed cop then asked if he could take a picture of the mediaman, who politely declined. The supposed cop then asked for the address of another newsman who lived nearby.

The somewhat frightened newsman was asking where the supposed cop got his address in the first place.

Having worked with a number of media organizations for the past three decades, I know that none of them would willingly give my home address to anyone without first clearing it with me.

The broadcast journ was not alone. As far as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines could tell, similar visits were also paid to at least four other practicing journalists last weekend.

Sonamagum, you might say? Sunavabtch, I will correct you.

The action taken by the cops – no more supposed because the PNP hierarchy confirmed that it was in fact a project of theirs – was wrong on so many levels.

One official supposedly said that the addresses of the newsmen came from their barangay officers. While this may be true, it is still wrong for any local government unit to release the addresses of private citizens.

Naturally not wearing their uniforms was a big no-no. The NUJP rightfully said that there was something threatening about an armed stranger knocking on one’s door.

If it had happened to me, I would have been livid with anger, especially if I were wearing a new pair of Levi’s at the time, as them denims would have been soiled with #1 and possibly #2.

As some have said, the police may have had the best intentions at heart with their ‘Visit the Newsman’ program. Indeed, if a newsman had been receiving threats, specifically death threats, the wise thing to do is to inform the police about it, and even give the names of the possible enemies who had the capacity and the motivation to do one harm.

The PNP was only reacting to the still unsolved killing of broadcast journalist Percy Lapid.

Lapid was no ordinary broadcaster, of course. He had one of the most popular shows on the air, and he only happened to have spent a good part of his programs attacking what he perceived were the wrongs committed by the Duterte regime before, and the current regime in more recent weeks.

His brother is also a past president of the National Press Club. So he was no mere reporter covering a beat, but one with a nationwide following.

So popular was Lapid that the reward for information leading to the capture of his assassin began at half a million pesos to six and a half million pesos as of last count.

A picture of a “person of interest” has also been released and he bears a striking resemblance to a certain ex-president, but of course it wasn’t him. The guy is a known sleepyhead and is too old to do anymore of the stupid things he did as a former government official.

But the killer is out there, and in most likelihood this was not his first hit.

If a person such as the suspected killer was targeting a working journalist, knowing that his intended victim had been visited by the good old PNP would have made him think twice.

But that is neither here nor there.

The fact is the visits to the homes of journalists was ordered by the head of the PNP National Capital Region, who apologized immediately after his ill-fated program was discovered.

And here’s the thing. He failed to inform the head of the Department of Interior and Local Government of his wonderful project. Maybe he didn’t like the DILG head’s name, as he is called Benhur. Good thing his parents didn’t name him Spartacus, huh? Or some silly name like Pancracio or Epimaco.

I should talk. One of my four first names is Faustino, and I do not think parents are naming their kids with such names anymore.

So if the police ever think of reviving this fool program of theirs, they would not trace me so easily as my barangay only knows me by my kilometric first name.

Now you know why I use my nickname in my bylines.

As for the friendly, neighborhood policemen, if they sincerely want to keep working journalists safe, the best way to do so is to make sure all communities are safe and crime-free.

They should also do everything humanly possible to find out who ordered the killing of Percy Lapid, which is not his real name by the way. But Percy really is his nickname for his real first name of Percival.

I end this by relating that some years ago, a friend of mine who was already a retired editor was also killed along with his brother. To this day, the killers of friend Mike and his brother have not been caught, or even identified.

We do not need good PR from the police. We need good policework, the kind that results in bad guys ending up behind bars.