LAWMAKERS were alarmed by the statement of incoming President Rodrigo Duterte on media killings, saying he enabled murderers in justifying the killings that those who are corrupt deserved to be slain.
“This is alarming as it practically justifies the killing of a journalist if he or she crosses an undefined line. Not only does it encourage people to take the law into their own hands, it also encourages them to break the law for the wrong reasons and circumstances that cannot be justified under any condition, especially in a society ruled by law,” Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, a former journalist, said.
“Being a son-of-a-bitch journalist is not an offense punishable by death. There is such a thing as due process, and going against it would push the country into chaos. Taking on the role of judge, jury and executioner will lead to more violations of human rights and injustice and ultimately, anarchy,” he added.
Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque said there are a handful of journalists killed not because they are corrupt but because they were the victims of corrupt people whose crooked ways were exposed.
“I take strong exception to the statement of President-elect Duterte that journalists who were victims of extrajudicial killings were killed because they were corrupt. People who are scared of the truth killed these journalists. Besides, the alleged corruption by members of the press do not make them legitimate targets of assassination,” Roque pointed out.
The lawmakers echoed the statement of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines that Duterte’s statement “not only sullies the names and memories of all 176 of our colleagues who have been murdered since 1986, but also, in effect, declared open season to silence the media, both individual journalists and the institution, on the mere perception of corruption.”
“Freedom of the press has to be respected and nurtured. Curtailing it would definitely lead to the suppression of basic freedoms,” Baguilat said.
Romel Regalado Bagares of the Center for International law said Duterte’s stance gives anybody license to perpetuate impunity.
“Granting that his allegation of media corruption is true, it does not under any circumstance justify the assassination of journalists. As incoming President and as a lawyer, he must surely know that the State has an obligation under international law and constitutional law to provide effective remedy to victims of human rights violations,” Bagares said.
He added that Duterte, during his term as Davao City mayor, failed to deliver justice to two Davao City-based radio broadcasters — Jun Pala and Fernando Lintuan who are known for their hard-hitting commentaries.
“His sweeping allegation is an insult to the memory of someone like our client Dr. Gerry Ortega, a Palawan broadcaster who died defending the environmental integrity of the province he dearly loved. We can point Mr. Duterte to so many other journalists who had been felled by assassins’ bullets simply because they were faithful to their professional calling to tell the truth to power,” Bagares said.
Out of context
But Duterte’s camp said the mayor’s statement was taken out of context.
In his Facebook page on Wednesday, Peter Laviña, Duterte’s transition team spokesman, lamented that the national and international media “lapped up the issue of media killings” instead of the new cabinet members of the incoming administration and “the declaration of war against red tape and the unnecessary burden and fees imposed on hapless citizens.”
“Again and as usual, Rody Duterte was taken out of context, misinterpreted and misunderstood,” Lavina said. He added that Duterte was only speaking “based on his own assessment of those killed in Davao City and not on the national scale.”
“Certainly, Duterte has no personal knowledge of each and every single case of media killings in many parts of the country,” he said.
Lavina said that for Duterte, some journalists risk being killed due to corrupt practices and partisanship and not because they are members of the media.