EDITORIAL - Silencing criticism

The Philippine Star

As the secretary of justice prepared to brief the United Nations on ongoing efforts to strengthen human rights mechanisms in the Philippines, another journalist was murdered, this time in Metro Manila.

The getaway motorcycle lacked license plates and the riders’ helmets and vehicle lights made identification difficult, but probers said they were pursuing leads in the murder of radio broadcaster Percival Mabasa last Monday night. Known as Percy Lapid in his radio program on dwBL, Mabasa was driving his black Toyota Innova at the BF Resort Village in Talon Dos, Las Piñas, when gunshots rang out from a motorcycle that had been tailing the van.

It was the second lethal attack targeting a journalist within less than 100 days of the new administration. Only last Sept. 18, Negros Oriental radio broadcaster Renato Blanco was stabbed dead in Mabinay town. At least the suspect, Charles Amada, was quickly arrested and is currently detained. Police said Amada confessed that he resented Blanco’s criticisms on radio of the suspect’s family including his sister-in-law Josephine, barangay captain of Himucdongon in Mabinay.

Mabasa became the 197th journalist to be murdered in the country since democracy was restored in 1986. Journalist groups have noted that most of the victims were radio broadcasters working outside the National Capital Region. That Mabasa was attacked in the NCR “indicates how brazen the perpetrators were, and how authorities have failed to protect journalists as well as ordinary citizens from harm,” according to a statement from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

The NUJP noted that Mabasa had been a vocal critic of the Duterte administration as well as some of the policies of the new one. Among Mabasa’s last commentaries were on the proliferation of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators as well as the red-baiting of the trial court judge who rejected a government petition to classify the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army as a terrorist organization.

Malacañang said President Marcos had expressed concern over Mabasa’s murder and wanted it solved quickly. Apart from the high number of journalist killings, failure to bring the perpetrators to justice consistently placed the Philippines among the worst countries for media workers in the annual Global Impunity Index drawn up by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

In the latest index, the Philippines ranked as the seventh worst. Human rights groups saw little hope for improvements in the situation under the Duterte administration, which gained notoriety for its bloody crackdown on illegal drugs and skirmishes with certain media institutions.

This week, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told the UN that efforts are being undertaken to improve the human rights situation under the new administration. The coming months will show whether this will go beyond lip service. Bringing Mabasa’s killers to justice will be a promising start.


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