Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed a bill which seeks to penalize public presentation of crime suspects and the release of their private information to the media before guilt is proven in court in an effort to protect their constitutional right to presumption of innocence,
In filing Senate Bill (SB) No. 929, De Lima, a known human rights defender, lamented that public parading of crime suspects has become a common practice among some local government officials and law enforcement officers across the country.
“‘Parading suspects violates not only their constitutional right to presumption of innocence but also their human rights by subjecting them to undue embarrassment and prejudgment by the public,” she said.
“This act besmirches the suspect’s name, including that of their family even before probable cause is established, much less before guilt is proven in court,” she added.
It may be recalled that the lady Senator from Bicol, during her separate stints as secretary of justice and CHR chairperson, had issued directives firmly opposing the practice of public presentation of suspects as it is a clear violation of their human rights.
During her stint as CHR chairperson in 2008, De Lima asked the Philippine National Police (PNP) to stop its common practice of presenting suspects to the press without presenting any evidence linking them to the crime.
She also recommended an urgent review of the PNP manual to ensure that police’s presentation of suspects is “human rights compliant.”
De Lima also issued a similar directive during her time as justice secretary following occasional deviations by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the PNP from such policy.
The said memorandum banned the presentation of suspects in a “firing line” to the media but cops may still use the press to inform the public about the arrest, the crime committed and its nature and circumstances, and other persons involved, among others.
“However, without a statutory edict, strict adherence to the policy of non-parading of suspects by the PNP officers and members of other investigative and law enforcement bodies cannot be assured,” De Lima explained.
While the heroic efforts of government law enforcement bodies in apprehending suspects or suspected criminal offenders are laudable, De Lima maintained that their achievements should not be debased into a cheap attempt at shaming in lieu of legitimate prosecution.
“[Law enforcement officers] should concentrate on the development of the investigation or case build up instead of resorting to the parading of individuals which transgresses the constitutionally guaranteed right to presumption of innocence,” she said.
Under SB No. 929, it is unlawful for any public official or law enforcement officer to present to the public through whatever means, any person who is a suspect in an investigation conducted by any government agency prior to the filing of formal charges against him or her in court, unless there is written consent by the said suspect.
Under the proposed measure, it shall likewise be considered unlawful for a public official or law enforcement officer to divulge the identity or personal information of a suspect prior to the filing of formal charges in court.
De Lima explained that a suspect’s exoneration after a trial by publicity could not repair the irremediable damage to his and his family’s reputation, saying, “such exoneration will not receive the same magnitude of publicity as when he was presented in a firing line before media.”.
Once the bill is passed into law, violators, regardless of profession, will face the penalty of prision correccional, or a fine of ₱50,000, or both.
De Lima, however, clarified that SB No. 929 does not apply to suspects who remain at large or those whose warrants of arrest have been issued because disseminating their names and photographs to the public can help facilitate arrest