Four journalists fell victim to another round of attacks against media workers in the Philippines. A radio commentator was killed and two others were arrested in Luzon on Tuesday, while another Visayas-based reporter was red-tagged last week.
The attacks came after the Philippines was listed on October 28 as seventh most dangerous country in the world for journalists in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2020 Global Impunity Index. These attacks once again shattered the illusion peddled by the that the press is “free and robust” and underscores how the reactionary law is being weaponized to stifle criticism.
Virgilio Maganes, 62, columnist for Northern Watch weekly publication and commentator for DWPR radio station, was gunned down by riding in tandem gunmen outside his home in Barangay San Blas, Villasis, Pangasinan. The victim sustained six bullet wounds in the head and other parts of the body which killed him instantly.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the killing citing that it “could be related to the botched attempt on his life” four years ago. He is the 18th journalist killed under the Duterte regime.
On the same day in Camarines Norte, Virgilio “Bagwis” Avila Jr., commentator for local radio station 98.5 OK-FM Daet and Mia Concordia, news anchor at local media Dateline Camarines Norte were arrested and detained for six hours over a cyber libel case filed against them by Gov. Edgardo Tallado. Both are critical of the inefficient pandemic response of the provincial government.
Avila and Concordia were released after posting bails of P320,000 and P80,000, respectively. Meanwhile, Deo Trinidad, another journalist in the complaint, was not arrested after posting bail of P20,000.
Earlier, Avila was also slapped with a separate libel case filed by Tallado’s allies against him and four other journalists, including commentator Rommel Ibasco Fenix, who was arrested last September 15 while hosting his radio program.
In Panay, Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter and NUJP director Nestor Burgos Jr. was red-tagged by fake rebel surrenderee Jeffrey Celiz of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict on November 5. Celiz accused Burgos and 49 other individuals of being cadres of the armed revolutionary movement. The Philippine Daily Inquirer belied the allegation saying that Burgos has been in their reportorial staff since 2001.
Attacks against Philippine media have intensified under Duterte who has expressed open contempt for journalists, especially those critical of his regime. In June, Maria Ressa, Rappler chief executive and executive editor of Rappler and known critic of Duterte, was found guilty of “cyber libel” in a Manila court. On July, Duterte’s supermajority in Congress blocked the renewal franchise of ABS-CBN which allegedly refused to air his campaign ads during the 2016 presidential elections.