Press group tells Duterte: Don’t shoot the messenger

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 05 2016 04:25 PM | Updated as of Jun 05 2016 06:49 PM

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte. ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The country’s national association of newspapers on Saturday appealed to President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to commit himself to the protection of journalists and uphold the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press.

The Philippine Press Institute (PPI) issued the call in the heels of Duterte’s claim that many Filipino media workers are killed for being corrupt and that freedom of the press cannot protect a journalist especially if he is a "son of a b****."

In a statement, the PPI said that such pronouncement "goes against the grain of the statutory protection of the freedom of the press to report without fear of reprisal."

"The incoming president’s disturbing remarks do nothing to counter the spate of media attacks in the country. On the contrary, they tend to foster the brazen sense of impunity behind the alarming rise of journalist deaths in the Philippines," the organization added.

Unabated media killings in the country has earned it a reputation as the second most dangerous place for the media, next only to war-torn Iraq.

The PPI said that while no one denies the existence of corruption within media, this cannot be used a justification for murdering or attacking journalists.

"Media extortionists and blackmailers certainly have no place in an otherwise noble profession in which high ethical standards are the norm. Yet equally abhorrent are politicians and members of the business community and other sectors of society who think nothing of bribing reporters and editors in exchange for favors. But while accepting or giving ‘envelopes’ is grossly unethical, does it make it a deathly proposition?" the group's statement read.

The organization also maintained that extrajudicial killing of any form should have no place in the Philippines.

"In a country that still considers itself a democracy, where the rule of law is expected to remain paramount under Duterte’s watch, extrajudicial killings - whether of media people or anyone for that matter - must not be condoned under any circumstances," the PPI said.

The group urged Duterte to divert his supposed animosity for the media towards those behind the killing of media workers.

"The President-elect would have done well to express alarm over the fact that to date only 15 out of more than 170 recorded cases of journalists killed have been solved - none of whom were known to be on the take. Surely it is not too much to expect that the newly elected president direct his anger toward the unsolved media murders, and his efforts toward bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.

"Until then the cloud of impunity in the senseless and unlawful killings of journalists will continue to hover over this country, notwithstanding the winds of change Duterte had promised during the campaign," the PPI said.

The Duterte camp has stressed that the President-elect's comments were only based on his own assessment of journalists killed in his turf, one of whom was Jun Pala, a hard-hitting critic who was killed in 2003, "and not on the national scale."

Incoming presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo sought to clarify that Duterte is not endorsing violence against members of the media.

Peter Laviña, campaign manager of Duterte, also stressed that Duterte himself has already said that he would create a task force to address media killings and ask for a special prosecutor to focus on these cases.

(READ: 'Duterte's media killings statement taken out of context')

The world's deadliest attack on media workers happened in the Philippines in 2009 when 58 people, including 32 journalists, were murdered in Maguindanao.

Members of the influential Ampatuan political clan are accused of masterminding the massacre, wherein some of the victims were shot in their genitals before they were buried in a hilltop grave using an excavator. No one has yet been convicted over the killings.

(READ: Maguindanao massacre kin don't see justice coming soon)

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which identified the Philippines as world's second most dangerous place for journalists, said 309 journalists have been killed here in recent years.