Marcos to press: ‘I won’t be your leader but your partner’
President Marcos told journalists he would rather be their partner than their leader as he vowed to protect press freedom on Wednesday, three days after his administration recorded its second media killing with the gunshot murder of veteran broadcaster Percival Mabasa on Oct. 3.
Speaking at a forum of the Manila Overseas Press Club, the President cited the media’s crucial role in nation building, saying he was committed to upholding the people’s right to free speech and press freedom.
“We will not be your leader but we will be your partner, as we work together to see the full promise of the Filipino nation fulfilled in the days and in the years ahead,” Mr. Marcos said.
But the President’s speech did not refer directly to the case of Mabasa, a radio broadcaster and vlogger known as Percy Lapid who had been critical of the Marcos and Duterte administrations. On Monday evening, the 63-year-old journalist was shot twice in the head as he was driving his car near his home in Las Piñas City.
Mr. Marcos also did not mention the grim treatment of the independent press during the dictatorship of his late namesake father, when many critical journalists and activists were arrested, tortured and forcibly disappeared.
Instead, the Chief Executive pledged his government’s support and protection for the rights of the media “as they efficiently perform their duty.”
“Whatever difficulties we may encounter from this point on, the government will always be ready to lend an ear and to listen to your concerns and to answer all that you may want to know,” he added.
Help explain to public
Mr. Marcos, who evaded interviews with traditional media during the presidential campaign, said he would remain open in communicating his administration’s progress to the press.
But he issued a reminder to media practitioners “to not only analyze” and “give their opinion” on the news, but to help the administration “effectively communicate” the government’s efforts and initiatives to the public.
“This is another partnership that we must continue to strengthen,” Mr. Marcos said.
While the President didn’t mention Mabasa, Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Hubert Guevara on Tuesday said Mr. Marcos had expressed concern over the journalist’s killing.
As of Thursday, authorities have yet to identify any suspect in Mabasa’s murder, although they said they found clues to the gunman’s identity, including a clear image of the masked assailant from closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage of the crime scene.
A forensic team also confirmed that a .45-caliber pistol had been used to kill Mabasa, Southern Police District (SPD) director Col. Kirby John Kraft said on Thursday.
The police official said the murder weapon would be cross-matched with firearm records to try to identify the gun’s owner.
Clearer angle of gunman
The spokesperson of the special investigation task force on the Mabasa case, SPD district director for operations Col. Restituto Arcangel, said investigators reviewing CCTV recordings at the scene had found footage showing a clearer angle of the gunman.
“We believe the gunman was riding at the backseat of the motorcycle,” Arcangel said in an interview. “Although he was wearing a face mask, we are able to generally describe his features.”
Other CCTV footage from areas where the assailants had passed through also revealed some clues, he said.
The dash camera on Mabasa’s vehicle indicated that the suspects were “waiting for him (Mabasa), and it matched the clip showing what happened before he was shot,” Arcangel said.
“Retrieved CCTV footage along the route the victim had taken also matched and confirmed the dash cam footage,” he said, adding that this provided clues of where the suspects might have gone after the attack.
Mabasa’s family called for the public’s help in identifying the suspects.
On Oct. 4, Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos put up a P500,000 bounty for information on Mabasa’s killers.
Journalist Roy Mabasa, the victim’s brother, said the family was thankful for the unexpected gesture and called on eyewitnesses to come out.
“We believe that good people who will help Percy’s family in solving the killing are still out there,” Roy Mabasa said.
According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, 197 journalists have been killed in the country since 1986.
Based on the 2022 Press Freedom Index by the global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, the Philippines ranked 147th among 180 countries surveyed, dropping from the 138th spot in 2021.
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