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Duterte declares open season on journalists

MANILA (UCAN): “You are not exempted from assassination if you are a son of a bitch,” president-elect, Roderigo Duterte, said on May 31 in response to a question from the media about a confrère murdered in Manila a few days previously.

The Philippines is already listed as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, as the numbers killed over past years keeps it in the top 20 of the deadliest countries for those who pen the news.

At least 176 journalists have been murdered since democracy returned to The Philippines in 1986.

However, although he never seemed to do anything about it, the out-going president, Noynoy Aquino, always insisted that murdering journalists was not a policy of his administration.

But incoming president, Duterte, may have different ideas. He virtually declared open season on them when he said that the majority of those who have come to a sticky end have done something that has earned them a spot on the assassination hit list.

“You won’t be killed if you don’t do anything wrong,” Duterte shot back at the media scrum during what became a heated exchange of words between the incoming president and those who report the news.

“Freedom of expression won’t save you,” he preached. “The constitution cannot help you if you slander a person,” the president-elect, who will be sworn into office on June 30, said.

GMA News reported that he described journalists as legitimate targets for assassination, citing the case of a Davao-based radio journalist, Jun Pala, a critic of Duterte. Pala was murdered in 2003.

“I don’t want to demean his memory, but he was a rotten son of a bitch. He deserved it,” Duterte told the media.

He then boasted, “Of course I know who killed him.”

Paul Gutierrez, the president of the National Press Club of The Philippines, took exception to Duterte’s remarks. “His observation is too sweeping, generalised and therefore unfair to the victims,” he said.

The National Union of Journalists of The Philippines said that Duterte has declared open season on the media in order to silence it. It accused him of slandering both individual journalists and the institution, which it admitted is affected by corruption.

In all events, it insisted that corruption is not sufficient reason to murder anyone.

“To simplify media killing as due to corruption is to gloss over the fact that media killings happen due to the still prevalent culture of impunity in the country,” Gutierrez said.

Michaella Ortega, the daughter of assassinated journalist and environmental advocate from Puerto Princesa, Gerry Ortega, said Duterte’s words came as a shock.

“Our family is incensed by the hasty and crass generalisations made about murdered journalists in the country,” she said.

“My father was killed for his courage and integrity. He was murdered precisely because he was honourable. He fought for social justice,” she added.

Ortega was shot from close range in broad daylight in an open marketplace in January 2011 for his exposé of corruption in the provincial government of Palawan, including the misuse of billions of pesos from government energy projects.

His daughter described Duterte’s statement as alarming, because it casts “absolute judgment on all murdered journalists including those who were killed for telling the truth.”

A spokesperson for Duterte, Peter Lavina, said the incoming president’s statement was taken out of context. “Again, and as usual, Rody Duterte was taken out of context, misinterpreted and misunderstood,” Lavina equivocated.

“Certainly, Duterte has no personal knowledge on each and every single case of media killings in many parts of the country,” Lavina said.

However, Duterte seldom talks out of any defined or described context. It is actually his strong point, as whatever he says can be used to mean almost anything he likes.

“He actually has a problem using words in a comprehensible manner,” one commentator noted.

Drawing a long bow, Lavina explained that in the context of Duterte’s campaign against corruption, his remarks should be taken as a reminder there is also corruption in mass media.

While it is common knowledge that there are journalists in The Philippines who take bribes to write favourable stories, mostly about politicians, wealthy land barons or big industry, Duterte is maybe not so innocent either.

Although he has a reputation for not taking cuts on government contracts, he has accepted substantial gifts from the private sector.

How far will the president go? Journalists are not the only group Duterte has labelled as sons of bitches. He has the bishops in that category too, so presumably it is open season on them as well.

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