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Press FreedomPhilippines

Philippines: Killing of journalist sparks protests

October 4, 2022

A radio broadcaster often critical of former President Rodrigo Duterte was shot dead by two assailants on a motorcycle. "Authorities have failed to protect journalists," the National Union of Journalists says.

A man lights a candle as members of various media organizations and human rights activists condemn the murder of broadcast journalist Percival Mabasa, more popularly known as Percy Lapid, during an indignation rally in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines. October 4, 2022.
Percival Mabasa, known as Percy Lapid, was ambushed in suburban Manila on MondayImage: Basilio Sepe/ZUMA Wire/IMAGO

Radio journalist Percival Mabasa, better known in the Philippines as Percy Lapid, was killed on the outskirts of the country's capital, Manila, late on Monday, police said on Tuesday. 

This triggered condemnation from media groups, activists, opposition politicians and foreign embassies, which described his "brazen" assassination as a blow to press freedom. Protesters organized a march of indignation and vigil on Tuesday evening in Manila. 

What happened in the killing of Percy Lapid?

Mabasa, 63, was killed by two gunmen riding a motorcycle at the gate of a residential compound in the Las Pinas area of Manila, near his home. He was driving to work at the DWBL radio station.

National police pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice and said a special task force would be set up to investigate. 

"We are not discounting the possibility that the shooting could be related to the victim's work in media," police chief Jaime Santos said in a statement. 

Mabasa's YouTube account showed he had been critical of former President Rodrigo Duterte and of some policies and officials in incumbent Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s administration.

Members of various media organizations and human rights activists carry signs
Mabasa criticized former President Rodrigo Duterte — which police said could be a factorImage: Basilio Sepe/ZUMA Wire/IMAGO

Domestic and international condemnation

"That the incident took place in Metro Manila indicates how brazen the perpetrators were, and how authorities have failed to protect journalists as well as ordinary citizens from harm," the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said. 

The union said that Mabasa had been critical of "red-tagging," slang for the process of dismissing dissenting voices as communist sympathizers, as well as online gambling operations and misinformation about martial law

Mabasa's family called his killing a "deplorable crime" and demanded that "his cowardly assassins be brought to justice." 

The embassies of the Netherlands, Canada and the UK all condemned the killing and urged a swift and thorough investigation.

Canada's embassy issued a joint statement urging "Philippine authorities to take concrete steps to ensure not only that the perpetrators are brought to justice, but to create a safe environment for journalists to carry out their work without fear for their lives and safety."

What is the state of press freedom in the Philippines?

The murder followed the fatal stabbing in September of another radio journalist, Rey Blanco, in central Philippines. 

The Philippines' media landscape is among the more liberal in Asia, yet it is still a dangerous place to work, particularly in more rural areas. 

According to Reporters Without Borders, at least 187 journalists have been killed in the country since 1987, including 32 in a single incident in 2009, an attack on a rural opposition politician, his supporters and the reporters covering him. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, in 2021 ranked the Philippines 13th on its global impunity index, pointing to 13 journalists' murders still unsolved.

The high-profile case of repeated and long running litigation against Nobel Peace Prize winning journalist Maria Ressa and her Rappler outlet has kept issues such as press freedom, misinformation and possible government persecution of the media in the Philippines in the spotlight for years. 

'There's a reason why we were targeted'

msh/rt (AFP, Reuters)