Freelance Journalist Slain in Encounter With Philippine Troops

Nonoy Espina
Bacolod, Philippines
ph-journalist620 People hold signs saying “Never again to dictatorship,” as they take part in a protest against the Philippine government-ordered shutdown of broadcaster ABS-CBN, in Manila, May 8, 2020.

A freelance journalist in the central Philippines was killed by soldiers during an encounter at the weekend, with authorities claiming on Tuesday that the troops shot him because he pulled a gun on them.

The killing of journalist Ronnie Villamor in Milagros, a town in Masbate province, was the second shooting death of a Filipino journalist in less than a week. A police report said that troops on Saturday approached five men they believed were armed – including “suspect” Villamor – and asked them to stop.

“Then and there operating troops ordered him to stop but the suspect pulled his firearm from his waist and pointed [it] towards them, and sensing imminent danger the troops fired upon the suspect which resulted [in] his untimely death,” the police report said, according to Philippine news outlet Rappler.

Villamor’s colleagues at the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said that the 50-year-old was a pastor who moonlighted as a reporter for a provincial tabloid, Doskantos Balita.

Villamor was killed a few days after Virgilio Maganes, a member of NUJP, was shot dead by unidentified assailants in the northern Philippines.

The NUJP has questioned some of President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies, including his government’s shut-down of leading Manila-based broadcaster ABS-CBN Corp. and the conviction on libel charges of Maria Ressa, head of online publication Rappler and a former CNN journalist.

Villamor was the 20th journalist slain since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in mid-2016, and the 191st killed since dictator Ferdinand Marcos fell in 1986, according to the NUJP.

He is the fourth journalist slain in Masbate after reporters Nelson Nedura in 2003, Antonio Castillo in 2009, and Joaquin Briones in 2017, the journalists’ union said.

Villamor’s union colleagues conducted an initial investigation into his death to determine the sequence of events before the shooting.

They said Villamor had gone to the Matanglad municipality in Milagros on Saturday with four land surveyors, at the request of a local landowner who was involved in a property dispute there.

The NUJP said that those involved in land disputes often request media coverage for activities such as surveys, believing that journalists' presence will prevent violence.

Villamor and his colleagues “coordinated with the local police and informed them of their purpose in going to Matanglad,” the union said.

The survey could not be conducted because local soldiers allegedly prevented it, the NUJP said. Therefore, Villamor and his companions phoned the local police for assistance, the union added.

“It was at that moment that several gunfire was heard,” the journalists’ union said.

On Tuesday, Jamon Jardi Espares, a member of the Masbate Provincial Board, said he had already called for an investigation.

“This string of encounters with government forces has led to the deaths of village officials,” Espares said. “This needs to be openly discussed.”

The national police and the military did not comment when asked about the shooting of Villamor.

Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cotabato City, Philippines.

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