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17 of 50 journalists rounded up from The Pen released

November 29, 2007 11:31pm

Police late Thursday night released 17 of the more than 50 journalists rounded up earlier after troops and SWAT teams assaulted The Manila Peninsula Hotel that was commandeered for six hours by the group of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.

According to a DZBB report, the 17, mostly from TV and radio networks, were freed after police found no basis to detain them.

Other reporters were still being held pending verification of their employment as media practitioners, police said.

National Police chief Avelino Razon said that they were prompted to arrest everyone from reporters and photojournalists to soldiers inside the hotel after receiving reports that military men involved in the takeover have disguised themselves as reporters.

Razon added that some soldiers have displayed media identification cards in order to escape arrest.

Hundreds of reporters swamped the Manila Peninsula Hotel shortly after word spread that rebel troops were heading there. For hours, live TV coverage showed interviews with the soldiers as well as shots of government troops taking positions outside - much to the discomfort of the government.

When the government asked journalists to leave before security forces stormed the hotel, most refused.

''We begged our friends from media for almost two hours to vacate the premises,'' Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said.

''In the first place, it was for the safety of correspondents there. Thank God that a firefight did not break out. But bullets don't choose their victims when they start to fly,'' he said.

''I don't think it was very wise for people to remain there,'' he said. ''Maybe they do not realize that when you stay there you become an obstruction to police officers who are in an operation.''

He said the detained journalists were taken to a police camp for ''processing'' to verify their identities.

The explanation did little to appease media advocates.

''We see clear danger in the government's seemingly hasty interpretation that the coverage and reporting of the standoff threatens national security,'' said Amado Macasaet, chairman of the Philippine Press Institute. ''We object to this undisguised martial law practice.''

Press freedom is a touchy issue in the Philippines where democracy was restored in 1986 after 20 years of dictatorship under late President Ferdinand Marcos, when newspapers were closed or censored.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who took over in 2001, often has had a confrontational relationship with the media.

Last year, when she declared a weeklong state of emergency to crack down on an alleged coup plot, authorities raided the offices of a critical newspaper and troops were deployed around the two largest TV networks.

Mrs Arroyo promised Thursday to free the journalists ''at once if there is no more reason for them to remain with the police.''- GMANews.TV with a report from AP
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