Police arrested the journalists and student journalists, along with more than 90 individualsincluding farmers who were beneficiaries of an agrarian reform program and land reform advocates, while reporting on cultivation work on disputed land in Tinang, Concepcion, in the Tarlac province of Central Luzon.
According to an advocacy group for farmers’ rights and other marginalised sectors, the arrested farmers were recipients of 200 hectares of land in Tinang from the Department of Agrarian Reform in 2018. However, the decision to recognise the farmers as legitimate recipients of the land was never officially implemented.
On June 12, the eleven journalists were released on bail amounting to 12,000 pesos (approx. USD 225), with lawyers managing to reduce the amount from 39,000 pesos (approx. USD 732). The NUJP has organised a crowdfunding campaign and used its Masked Media legal defence to raise bail for the journalists and student journalists.
In a press briefing on June 13, the acting chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Lieutenant General Vicente Danao, questioned the presence of the media in the area and labelled the farmers “militants”. Danao also accused the journalists of attempting to “agitate the people and make up stories”.
According to the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, police officers followed one of the student journalists a day after their release.
The NUJP said: “The fact that journalists were arrested and charged and that the police are justifying this by suggesting they were participants is troubling. Journalists were there to cover and it is dangerous for the police to suggest that coverage is the same thing as participation. We call on the court to drop the charges against our colleagues and others arrested in Tarlac last week and for the PNP to reconsider its position that reporting is 'meddling’.”
The IFJ said, “The detainment and spread of unfounded allegations against journalists for reporting on issues in the public interest is highly concerning. Police must ensure the safety of journalists in the field and protect press freedom. The IFJ calls on the authorities to immediately drop all charges against the journalists.”