Men on a motorcycle gunned down a radio broadcaster in the Central Philippines on Tuesday night, according to police and press monitors, in the latest killing of a journalist in the country known for being among the world’s most dangerous places for reporters.
Cornelio Pepino, 48, who worked for community radio station dyMD Energy 93.7 FM and was more popularly known as Rex Cornelio, was attacked as he and his wife rode home on a motorbike in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental province.
Pepino was rushed to the Silliman University Medical Center, but proclaimed dead on arrival. Police did not release details about his wife’s condition.
Police investigating the incident would not immediately rule out the attack as work related, said Lt. Allen June Germondo, officer in charge of the investigation.
If Cornelio’s killing is proven to be connected to his profession, he would be the 16th journalist killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016 and the 188th since 1986, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said.
The Philippines’ reputation as being among the most deadly countries for journalists is due in part to a November 2009 incident when 32 journalists and media workers were among 58 people killed, when a political clan massacred members of a rival family contesting the governorship of a southern province. The Ampatuan Massacre as it came to be known is considered the largest, single-day killing of media workers anywhere in the world, according to press and rights groups.
Last October, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists ranked the Philippines fifth on its Global Impunity Index, which gauges the record of countries in prosecuting murderers of journalists.
At least two other journalists in the country’s central region have been slain in recent years.
Edmund Sestoso, the former chairman of the NUJP chapter in Dumaguete City and anchor of the program Tug-anan on dyGB Power 91 was shot on April 30, 2018, and died the next day.
On Nov. 7, 2019, Dindo Generoso of dyEM Bai Radio was shot dead while he was on his way to work. Three suspects, two of them police, have been arrested and charged with murder.
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines, the country’s oldest organization of student publications in the country, noted that Pepino’s death came on the same day that the government shut down the country’s leading television and radio network, ABS-CBN Corp., after its license expired and congress did not act for more than three years on an application to renew the network’s permit.
While the two incidents were not related, the guild said members should spur the fight for “genuine press freedom” in the Philippines.
“Even under the ongoing crisis of COVID-19 and implementation of the enhanced community quarantine, countless human rights violations and press freedom attacks persist with the culture of impunity running deep in the veins of officials and officers turning blind eyes,” guild president Daryl Angelo Baybado said in a news release.