It is appalling that President-elect Rodrigo Duterte should justify the murder of journalists in the country by playing the corruption card.
In his press conference in Davao City Tuesday, Mr. Duterte issued the broad assertion that “most journalists killed are corrupt.”
“Just because you’re a journalist doesn’t mean you’re exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch,” he said.
“Freedom of expression won’t save you,” he added. “The Constitution cannot help you kapag binaboy mo ang isang tao.”
Mr. Duterte’s crass pronouncement not only sullies the names and memories of all 176 of our colleagues who have been murdered since 1986, he has also, in effect, declared open season to silence the media, both individual journalists and the institution, on the mere perception of corruption.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) does not gloss over the fact that corruption is among the most pressing problems faced by the media. Nor do we deny that this could be the reason for a number of media killings.
However, it is one thing to recognize a possible reason for murder; it is a totally different thing to present this as a justification for taking life.
Admittedly, this would not be the first time the perceived corruption of the media has been bandied as a justification for the murder of journalists. And Mr. Duterte tries to explain his thesis by claiming assassination is retribution from private individuals unjustly pilloried by errant journalists.
He could not be further from the truth.
While there may be instances where private individuals may have sought revenge against journalists for soiling their reputations, the data shows that, of the handful of media killings that have actually made it to the courts, the accused are invariably from government – elected officials, government executives or members of the security services – and invariably accused of corruption.
Let us just cite a few of the more prominent cases – the murders of Edgar Damalerio of Pagadian City, Marlene Esperat of Tacurong City, and Gerry Ortega of Puerto Princesa City, and, of course, the most heinous of all, the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre, of which 32 of the 58 victims were media workers, making it not only the worst case of electoral violence in recent Philippine history but the single deadliest attack on journalists ever.
We wonder if the President-elect is willing to face the orphans and widows of the victims of these killings and tell them, “They were killed because they were corrupt.”
As we have pointed out before, leadership, or even its mere semblance, carries weight and what leaders say, right or wrong, seriously or in jest, will resound with their followers. Thus, even if this be jest, and we see no reason to believe this was the case, your words may well be interpreted as marching order by those with an axe to grind against a critical press.
In all honesty, Mr. President-elect, we were hopeful, following pronouncements by your spokesperson that you would push the enactment of the Freedom of Information (FOI) law and would constitute a special task force to investigate media killings, that we were on the cusp of a new era when freedom of the press and of expression would be respected, defended and promoted beyond lip service.
Alas, it seems we were wrong.
Or are we to be again treated to the excuse that it was all a joke and we need to be more discerning about your pronouncements?
Murder is no joke. Neither is press freedom.
Be that as it may, the independent Philippine media will not be cowed from fulfilling its duty to act as the people’s watchdog.