MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The government on Thursday said it was "exploring all angles" in the fatal shooting of news correspondent Jesus “Jess” Malabanan, the latest in a long line of journalists killed in the country.
Authorities "condemn in the strongest possible terms" the killing of Malabanan in his home in Calbayog City, Samar on Wednesday night, said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles.
A task force on media security "is now looking into the incident and exploring all angles, including the possibility that the killing was related to his work as a journalist," said Nograles, acting spokesman for Malacañang.
"It likewise urges everyone with information to come forward to authorities and cooperate with law enforcers in order to immediately bring Mr. Malabanan's killers to justice," the official added in a statement.
The Commission on Human Rights said it will launch its own probe on Malabanan's killing.
"Without bringing the perpetrators to account, this episode of violence further worsens the climate of impunity and affects the freedom of the press to conduct their work without fear," the CHR said.
"We urge the Philippine National Police to exert all efforts in identifying the perpetrators and ensuring justice for yet again a violation of person’s right to life."
"At the same time, we call on the government to urgently address killings and similar threats to media, who continues to form part of the working democracy."
Malabanan was a correspondent for the Manila Standard in the Central Luzon region, north of the capital Manila.
He also worked as a stringer for Reuters. The international news agency said it was "deeply saddened" to learn of the death of Malabanan, who had worked on its Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the drug crackdown in the Philippines in 2017.
The Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) noted that in 2017, Malaban sought their assistance and was given police security.
The Philippines is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, and most of their killers go unpunished.
Police said the victim was watching TV inside his house when two armed men shot him from the outside. The gunmen fled right after the incident.
Malabanan was quickly brought to a hospital, but was declared dead on arrival by the attending physician.
Usec. Joel Sy Egco of PTFoMS said he would go to Samar to personally oversee the probe into the death of Malabanan, whom he described as a "personal friend."
“This cowardly killing in the midst of a pandemic is truly unforgivable. We will get to the bottom of this and will stop at nothing in bringing to justice the perpetrators of this despicable crime,” Egco, a former news reporter, said in a statement.
The task force said that based on initial investigation, Malabanan had no known enemies and "was not a hard-hitting journalist."
The Philippine National Police said it mobilized a task group to coordinate all actions of regional investigative units regarding Malabanan's shooting. It is now working to obtain copies of CCTV footage that might help in the probe.
“We understand the call of the family and different groups to expedite the investigation of the case. These requests will not fall on deaf ears. Establishing the motive of the case can help us in going to the bottom of this. We just need the cooperation of the witnesses,” PNP chief Gen. Dionardo Carlos said.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines' Pampanga provincial chapter condemned the "senseless killing".
Malabanan's death comes less than two months after Orlando Dinoy, a reporter in Mindanao, was shot dead in his apartment.
At the time, Dinoy was the 21st journalist killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took power in 2016, the NUJP said previously.
In a report issued in October before the latest killings, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists listed the Philippines at seventh place in its Global Impunity Index, with 13 murders of journalists still unsolved.
The nation has been a mainstay in the annual index since it started in 2008.
— With a report from Agence France-Presse