Police official sorry for seizing TV reporter's cellphone, denies ordering to delete video

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Southern Police District Chief Brigadier General Nolasco Bathan said that in the thick of the procession of the Black Nazarene on Thursday, he initially thought reporter Jun Veneracion was a "threat" and did not recognize he was part of the media.

"What happened between me and Mr. Veneracion was somehow a misunderstanding and I again sincerely apologized for my actions. It all happened unintentionally. We are just securing peace and order in the area," he said in a media briefing.

Seconds before Bathan seized his cellphone, Veneracion was shooting a video of police tackling down a Nazarene devotee along Ayala Bridge. When he tried to get the phone back, he claimed the officer threatened to confiscate his hand-held radio, so he had to step away because Bathan was "fuming mad." Veneracion said he approached Bathan again, who finally returned the cellphone and apologized for not recognizing the reporter.

Upon checking his phone, Veneracion realized the video of the scuffle was deleted. He was able to retrieve the video from his "Recently Deleted" album and found out it continued recording even after his phone was seized by the police. Towards the end of the video, the screen went black, but a voice can be heard of a man giving an instruction to someone, “Burahin mo, burahin mo kuha ni Jun Veneracion. P*****I**, nagku-kwan eh.”

Bathan denied deleting the video or ordering his men to do so.

"I do not know that version. Hindi ko alam kung mayroon ngang na-delete," the police official said.

He said he has called the reporter twice to personally apologize. He said Veneracion accepted his apology.

"Hindi karuwagan ang pag-amin ng pagkakamali," Bathan said.

PNP spokesman Bernard Banac said they are still awaiting an explanation from the Metro Manila Police, but vowed they will conduct a speedy probe. He added they respect the rights of journalists to freely cover and report the news.

"Rest assured that the PNP wouldn't tolerate this. We always respect the rights of the media to cover events like this. We will look into this and the PNP will deal with this matter speedily," he told CNN Philippines.

Metro Manila acting police chief Debold Sinas said he has ordered the PNP's Internal Affairs Services to investigate the issue.

Police violations?

Allegations of violence and aggression during the Traslacion hound the Philippine National Police, which secured the annual procession of the Black Nazarene.

Metro Manila acting police chief Debold Sinas said the devotee who was tackled in the video was the leader of the unruly group during the procession. He said the man was considered an "agitator" who was restrained then moved to the back of the pack of devotees, but was not sent to jail.

More than 2,000 police officers secured the carriage of the image of the Black Nazarene by forming an "andas wall," that has been criticized by some devotees.

Some of the devotees complained they were not able to go near the andas or the carriage of the black Nazarene because of the strict security measures.

Bong Encarnado, a Black Nazarene devotee, also alleged that some police officers sprayed some procession participants with what appears to be water mixed with chilli when they came close to the icon.

“Bukod sa mahigpit sila [police], ginamitan nila kami ng spray … parang tubig na hinaluan ng sili yung i-spray sa mata mo.”

Banac denied the spraying came from the side of the police force, claiming there were "saboteurs" trying to taint the image of the PNP.

Following Nazarene devotees' complaints of physicality from police officers, Banac apologized and said the actions were "unintended."

A police official pointed out some devotees were also violent against authorities.

Makati Police Criminal Investigation Chief Gideon Ines shared photos of a damaged vehicle, saying devotees repeatedly kicked it, including the car holding the altar. He also said some of them smelled of alcohol.

Over 3 million devotees took part in the annual tradition. The Traslacion on Thursday was the shortest one in recent history, with the procession lasting 16.5 hours. PNP said the event was generally peaceful and orderly.