By Raïssa Robles
Today I heard National Police Commission vice chairman Eduardo Escueta ask netizens to please snap photos of ongoing crimes or suspicious activities and post these on the Internet.
This was after the photo below was posted online and went “viral”. It resulted in the arrest of two cops whom Napolcom suspected to be among the nine policemen behind the highway robbery that a stranger happened to snap.
Now the Napolcom – the police force’ disciplinary agency – wants netizens to help fight crime if they happen to witness one.
This is very dangerous. Napolcom has to issue a memorandum circular first to the entire national police force telling them that they cannot object when private citizens – not just journalists – snap photos of them in public areas.
I am suggesting this because you see, some policemen have this mistaken but very dangerous notion that it is a “crime” for the public to take photos of policemen.
I’m not kidding.
I speak from two close encounters with such policemen – one incident happened only last June. The other several years ago. In both instances, the police officers told me to stop taking photographs of them because it was “bawal” (prohibited).
The first incident took place several years ago when I snapped a photo of a police officer emerging from an establishment that had already been shut down on orders of the Quezon City government yet continued operating. The officer – who was tagged as one of the “protectors” who enabled the establishment to stay open – was not in uniform but he told me he was a police officer and that I was banned from snapping photos of him.
I told him I was a journalist and I was standing on the sidewalk and he was also on the sidewalk, and the sidewalk was a public area and therefore he was in a public place and therefore as a journalist I could take photos of him.
All the while, I was warily eyeing the clutch bag he was carrying. I entertained the notion of demanding that he open his clutch bag because I suspected he was carrying a gun furtively. But armed only with a camera, I decided not to.
Fortunately, people passing by stopped to take a look at why we were arguing heatedly. And he stalked away.
My second encounter with a policeman who thought that “bawal kunan ng litrato ang pulis” took place past 1 PM of Friday, June 6, 2014. I know the date very well because I was rushing from Quezon City to De la Salle University in Vito Cruz to attend the lecture of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on “Historical Fact, Historical Lies and Historical Rights in the West Philippine Sea.”
The cab I was riding in decided that to avoid traffic, we were better off turning left to Governor Forbes from España. Unfortunately, the taxi was on the wrong lane while turning left and a policeman immediately flagged him down.
I wanted to see what the policeman would do – would he take a bribe or write a ticket? So I turned on the camera on my cellphone. While the policeman was writing out a traffic citation ticket, the Manila policeman – whose name tag identified him as “Galoso” – noticed me and thought I was taking his photo.
He suddenly snapped at me and said – “bawal yan.”
I told him “hindi bawal. Public place ito.”
He ordered me to roll down the window which I did. He repeated that what I was doing was forbidden.
I told him, “this is really funny.”
He got madder and said he wanted to bring me to the precinct.
I told him why I thought it was funny. I told him I was a journalist and was going to write about the incident and praise him for writing out a ticket instead of accepting a bribe.
Hearing that, Officer Galoso then calmed down.
I commend Officer Galoso for not taking a bribe even though the cab driver was heavily hinting about giving him one just to escape the fine and a required seminar.
But I do wonder why he is the second police officer to tell me that citizens, including journalists, have no right to take photos of policemen.
Napolcom, please clarify.
Policing the Police – includes an interview with the late Interior and Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo