‘Corrupt journalists legitimate targets’
DAVAO CITY—“Even if you are a journalist, you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch.”
That is a warning from President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, who on Tuesday said corrupt journalists were legitimate targets of assassination, drawing outrage from civil rights and news organizations.
In comments to reporters in Davao City on Tuesday night, Duterte justified the media killings in the Philippines, saying freedom of the press was not a protection for corrupt journalists.
“You cannot invoke free speech. The Constitution cannot help you if you defame someone,” he said when asked how he would deal with the problem of media killings in the Philippines after a reporter was shot dead in Manila last week.
Tabloid reporter Alex Balcoba was shot dead by a lone gunman in Manila’s Quiapo district on Friday night, becoming the 30th journalist to be killed under the Aquino administration.
The International Federation of Journalists ranks the Philippines as the second-deadliest country in the world for journalists, with at least 146 killed over the last 25 years. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has a higher figure: 176 killed since 1986.
One of the deadliest attacks against journalists took place in Maguindanao province in November 2009, when 32 media workers were among 58 people killed by the Ampatuan warlord clan intent on stopping a rival’s electoral challenge.
Close to 200 people are on trial for the so-called Maguindanao massacre, including members of the Ampatuan family accused of orchestrating the carnage.
Duterte has named Salvador Panelo, the former defense lawyer for the Ampatuans, as his presidential spokesperson, a nomination criticized by the victims’ families and journalists’ organizations.
“Most of those killed, to be frank, have done something. You won’t be killed if you don’t do anything wrong,” Duterte said, adding that many journalists in the Philippines were corrupt.
“If you are a journalist who is doing what is right, nobody will touch you, especially if [what you publish] is true. You cannot hide the truth,” he said.
On the take
The foul-mouthed mayor of Davao City said some journalists were on the take, writing either to favor or defame some people.
“Most of those killed were paid to take sides or they got paid but they failed [to deliver]. Or they took money from gamblers but still hit them,” he said.
He said corruption was a reality in the Philippine press and journalists should not regard their press badges as bulletproof vests.
“You really want the truth? That’s the truth. There is corruption on your side. There are many of them. They collect not just from the police. They collect blatantly, and then pounce on the other side,” Duterte said.
“Do not make it appear that those who were killed were clean. Most of you are clean. But do not ever expect that those who were killed were all clean. The reason why they were killed was that they got paid, they took sides, or they attacked too much, getting personal,” he said.
Duterte raised the case of Jun Pala, a journalist and politician who was murdered in Davao in 2003. Gunmen on a motorcycle shot dead Pala, who was a vocal critic of Duterte.
“I do not want to diminish his memory, but he was a rotten son of a bitch. He deserved it,” Duterte said.
He said he knew who ordered Pala’s murder—someone who was hurt by the journalist’s personal attacks. The murder has never been solved.
“We politicians, we are used to that. But private citizens are different—defame them and you defame their children. They will really kill you. That’s how it is,” he said.
Asked if criticism was an excuse for killing a journalist, Duterte told the reporter off: “You are asking why? That is the reason. If you’re saying that should not be, you have to debate it with the killer, not me.”
Duterte’s tenor on Tuesday night was similar to his tone whenever he was asked about the killing of crime suspects.
Last week, when asked during a press conference about the killing of three men in Davao City, Duterte asked: “What did they do?”
Told that the victims were crime suspects, he shrugged and said: “Then sorry.”
‘Taken out of context’
Duterte’s comments drew outrage from civil rights and journalists’ organizations, but Peter Laviña, spokesperson for Duterte’s transition team, said the President-elect’s remarks were “taken out of context, misinterpreted and misunderstood.”
Laviña said national and international media organizations “lapped up” news of journalists’ killings when the headlines should have been the “declaration of war against red tape and unnecessary fees imposed on hapless citizens,” apart from the appointment of new Cabinet officials.
“[Duterte’s] example of most slain journalists being corrupt or involved in shady deals was based on his own assessment of those killed in Davao City and not on the national scale. Certainly, Duterte has no personal knowledge of each and every single case of media killings in many parts of the country,” Laviña said.
He also said he went to Balcoba’s wake on Monday.
Laviñia said Duterte had promised to form a task force to handle the media killings, and that the President-elect would “ask for a special prosecutor to focus on these cases.”
“When Duterte said that [journalists] became vulnerable to killings, it was because they were no longer seen as fair and neutral members of the media, but they had become partisan propagandists, deliberately using their media outlets in attacking or defending one party or another and collecting payoff [from] both,” Laviña said.
He said Duterte’s remarks should be taken as “a reminder or a message that there is also corruption in the media.”
“And he has seen this during the recent election when headlines, for instance, were bumped off to give way to paid black propaganda masquerading as news. Hence, he said, ‘You really want the truth? Well, that’s the truth,’” Laviña said. With a report from AFP
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