A journalist who helped in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters news agency investigation into the drug war of President Rodrigo Duterte, has been shot dead — the latest casualty in the continuing violence against people working in the media in the Philippines.
According to statement by the Philippine National Police headquarters on Thursday, Jesus “Jess” Malabanan was shot in the head on Wednesday evening while watching television inside his store in Calbayog, a city on the central island of Samar. Earlier, police in Calbayog were quoted as saying that the victim was killed inside his home.
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The police report also said two unidentified assailants carried out the attack. They have not been arrested.
Malabanan was rushed to a private hospital in the city but was declared dead on arrival.
Before Malabanan’s killing, data compiled by the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) showed that at least 21 journalists had been killed in the country since Duterte took over as president in June 2016.
In October, online journalist and radio commentator Orlando Dinoy was killed inside his apartment in the southern Davao region, Duterte’s stronghold. His suspected assailant was arrested and later charged with murder, but a government spokesman said Dinoy’s killing was not linked to his job.
In May, a journalist-turned-politician was killed in the province of Capiz in central Panay island.
Until the latest deadly attack on Wednesday, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said there have been 87 media practitioners killed in the line of duty in the Philippines since 1992, when it first started collecting data worldwide.
CPJ’s impunity index published in late October ranks the Philippines at seventh place worldwide for unsolved killings of journalists.
Including the recent killing of Malabanan, there have been at least 14 unsolved murders of journalists in the country. Most of the killings happened in the provinces, where journalists have lesser protection compared to their colleagues in the capital, Manila, when they cover controversial news stories.
In a statement, Philippine National Police Chief General Dionardo Carlos said his agency “is doing its best to immediately identify and arrest the person responsible” for the killing.
As an independent journalist, Malabanan contributed stories to several Philippine-based publications as well as Reuters news agency.
In a social media post, journalist Manny Mogato, who was also part of the Reuters team that won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting, wrote that Malabanan “helped Reuters a lot in the drug war stories that won a Pulitzer in 2018”.
Reports said Malabanan had been threatened in his hometown of Pampanga in the north, so he had decided to relocate to Samar in central Philippines.
“I joined fellow journalists in condemning the assassination of Jess…it is totally unacceptable. Justice for Jess,” Mogato added.
In #Oslo with @mariaressa, preparing for @NobelPrize #NobelPeacePrize events. Chilling to learn that tonight, Wednesday 8 December, another journalist has been killed in the #Philippines. The toll rises.
Rest in power, “Jess” Malabanan.
— Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC (@caoilfhionnanna) December 8, 2021
Reuter’s award-winning series of stories exposed “the brutal killing campaign behind Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs”, according to the Pulitzer citation. The Reuters team reported on the role of Davao police officers in the deadly drug raids in Manila, as well as the use of hospitals to hide drug killings.
Duterte’s drug war, which left thousands of alleged drug suspects dead, is now the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court.
On Thursday afternoon, the president’s spokesman Karlo Nograles said “the government will exert all efforts to ensure that those responsible are caught, charged, and convicted for this crime.”
Duterte previously cursed foreign journalists for their reporting, and has said that corrupt journalists are legitimate targets of assassination.
A self-confessed hitman from Davao, the hometown of Duterte, had also told a Senate committee hearing that the then-mayor had ordered the killing of a radio commentator who was critical of him.
Before taking office, Duterte was also quoted as saying that the radio commentator, Jun Pala, was “a rotten son of a whore”, who “deserved” to be killed.
In a statement, the Pampanga Press Club called on authorities “to help in the prompt investigation that would lead to the arrest of the perpetrators of this cowardly act in the interest of justice.”
The NUJP also issued a statement “condemning the senseless killing” of Malabanan.
Caoilfhionn Gallagher, an international human rights lawyer and defender of journalists, described hearing the news of the latest killing as “chilling”, as she prepared for events in Oslo related to the Nobel Peace Prize.
The prize is being awarded to Filipino journalist Maria Ressa and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov on Friday.