Ordering the arrest of reporters perceived by authorities as “crossing the line" during the August 23 hostage-taking incident never entered the mind of the Aquino administration, unlike the previous government’s heavy-handed handling of reporters during the Manila Peninsula siege in 2007.
This was the remark made on Wednesday by Herminio Coloma, head of Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), during a Lower House hearing on the proposed 2011 budget of his agency.
Asked by Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez during the hearing if he would recommend to the President the arrest of reporters like what happened in the Manila Peninsula siege after a renegade force of soldiers rebelled against then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Coloma said President Benigno Aquino III does not believe in prior restraint.
“No, your honor [we won’t], in consonance with overall policy enunciated by the President when he said that he doesn’t believe in imposing prior restraints," Coloma said.
The Aquino administration drew flak for what observers considered as its failure to restrict members of media who reported the incident live.
Hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza, a dismissed police officer, was reportedly able to monitor the movements of responding police through an on-board television set inside the bus. The arrest of his brother, also broadcast live, reportedly enraged the hostage-taker who then started shooting his victims.
Coloma reiterated his statement when House minority leader Edcel Lagman asked him if he thinks the government officials committed a mistake when they did not implement the international protocol on hostage crisis, which provides guidelines for media coverage during such times.
“I respect your view. The policy of this administration is not to impose any prior restraint to the exercise of freedom of the press and expression your honor," Coloma said.
He also assured that the Palace will not censure the negative comments posted to the Twitter and Facebook accounts of the President.
“We never censure the President’s account. Cyberspace is a democratic venue and we will not be getting the authentic sentiment of the people if we will do that," he said.
Zambales Rep. Ma. Milagros Magsaysay asked why Secretary Ricardo Carandang, head of the Presidential Communications and Strategic Planning Office, and Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda were absent in the hearing.
Coloma explained that the two officials are under the Office the President whose budget will be deliberated on September 23.
In reaction, Magsaysay said the setup was confusing. “Iba-iba ang sinasabi niyong tatlo. Kaya pati kami nahihilo na. Nagkakaroon ng di magandang outcome and pagde-deliver ng message (sa tao)," she said.
(You three are saying different things. Maybe that’s why we’re getting dizzy here. Delivering your message to people is leading to an outcome that’s not good.)
Coloma replied he would relay the concern to the President.