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EDITORIAL: Masked witness

ALTHOUGH identified later as Ernesto Tabor Jr., the masked witness presented by Chief Supt. Melvin Ramon Buenafe, former police regional director in Bicol, six days before he retired, had already tarnished the names of people he named involved in the biggest shabu laboratory uncovered by the police on Nov. 26, 2016 in Barangay Palta Small in Virac, Catanduanes. Before he made his final exit from service on July 11, Buenafe may have gained the biggest media mileage in his career as the chief of the Philippine National Police in Bicol. But for those who were named by Tabor, it was their biggest nightmare they wished never happened. In presenting the masked Tabor before the media, it could be that Buenafue wanted to protect the witness from harm since showing his face might make him an easy target of those he accused of participating in the operation of the illegal laboratory. With Tabor’s allegations against 22 persons which included an official of the National Bureau of Investigation, a former mayor in Camarines Sur, a lawyer and private citizens, the naming of alleged new suspects in the operation of the shabu laboratory before the public was unprecedented in the war against illegal drugs in Bicol. Aside from being assessed as the biggest shabu laboratory ever discovered in Bicol, the revelation of Tabor was explosive since his allegations involved government officials. In terms of attracting public attention, the public confession of Tabor, who narrated his involvement, and the participation of the people he named, overshadowed the news stories on war on drugs that involved suspected illegal drug users and pushers whose lives were snuffed off violently without due process. Sans the presence, of those Tabor had the ‘confession’ had automatically become biased and one-sided in favor of the implied accomplishment of the police in Bicol under the leadership of Buenafe. However, the way the police handled the sensitive case without consideration of the rights of those allegedly involved to defend themselves smacks of malice on the part of those who organized the press conference. It can be argued that Tabor’s allegations against the involvement of 22 people in the shabu laboratory could be publicly revealed even without them given the right to defend themselves because it was a sworn statement. After all, the organizers of the press conference could claim what had been publicly revealed was a public document. This argument also emboldened those who covered the press conference to broadcast or publish the information in terms of news stories without even bothering to get the side of those who allegedly participated in the operation of the shabu laboratory. The police organizers of the press conference knew too well the vulnerability of media people to be fed with explosive information because of the daily pressure of producing news stories under deadline. Because the revelations and allegations of Tabor were explosive, most of the media people at the press conference did not bother to weigh the pieces of information fed to them against the rule of fairness and being balanced in composing their news stories before broadcasting or publishing them. Definitely, it was not fair to hastily mount a press conference without waiting for the 22 people accused to submit their counter affidavits. A one source information is not reliable unless collaborated by other sources and hard evidence. But like what President Duterte usually mouths when he tackles the subject of war against criminality and illegal drugs, the presumption of innocence is better discarded.

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