Philippine police hunt for suspects in radio host’s on-air murder

Froilan Gallardo and Richel V. Umel
Cagayan De Oro, Iligan, Philippines
Philippine police hunt for suspects in radio host’s on-air murder Protesters raise placards in a rally for press freedom in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, Feb. 15, 2019.
Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

UPDATED at 1:27 p.m. ET on 2023-11-06

Police in the southern Philippines said Monday they were eyeing three suspects in the killing of community radio broadcaster Juan Jumalon, who was brazenly gunned down at his home studio as he aired a program on Facebook Live.

While the Philippines ranks among the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, Jumalon’s killing on Sunday followed more recent deadly attacks on members of the press but was particularly shocking because the scene was captured on his program’s live video feed.  

Based on testimonies from two witnesses and video surveillance footage, police released a facial composite of one of the suspects, the alleged lookout man, in the homicide at Jumalon’s studio in Calamba, a municipality in Misamis Occidental province.

“The way it was done is very blatant, and you can really see that those who perpetrated it, there is no remorse. It’s like they treated him as a chicken. It doesn’t look good. It’s really lawlessness,” Gen. Benjamin Acorda, the chief of the Philippine National Police, said during a press briefing in Manila on Monday.

Jumalon – better known as “Johnny Walker” to his fans – was hosting a show from his home radio station when an unidentified gunman fatally shot him twice in the head, leaving Jumalom slumped in his announcer’s chair, as seen in the Facebook footage reviewed by BenarNews. 

The gunman allegedly was posing as a prospective guest on the show, police said. In the seconds after the shooting, the suspected assailant could be seen in the video snatching Jumalon’s gold necklace before fleeing the scene.

The killing has drawn high-profile condemnations, with the country’s journalistic community deploring the pervasive lack of safety. 

“Attacks on journalists will not be tolerated in our democracy, and those who threaten the freedom of the press will face the full consequences of their actions,” President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Sunday.

However, the Committee to Protect Journalists slammed the Marcos government for what it said was his administration’s insufficient action to protect journalists in the country.

“The wanton killing of radio reporter Juan Jumalon shows that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s government isn’t doing enough to protect the press,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative, in a statement on Monday. “Talk is not equivalent to action. Until Marcos Jr.’s government shows it is serious about ending impunity for such killings, journalists will continue to be murdered at a horrific rate in the Philippines.”

The Philippine Commission on Human Rights has launched a “quick response operation” to determine if the violent attack was related to Jumalon’s profession as a radio host. 

“CHR condemns this brazen act of arbitrarily depriving a person of their right to life. CHR expresses further concern as the victim was a journalist,” the office said in a statement sent to the media on Monday. 

“We recognize, however, the chilling effect of this violent attack that continues to make the country a dangerous place for journalists.”

Juan Jumalon (also known as “Johnny Walker”) is shown in a photo published on his social media page. [Johnny Walker/Facebook]

Col. Dwight Donato, the provincial police chief in Misamis Occidental who is heading up a special task force created after Jumalon’s killing, said investigators were considering a land dispute as a possible motive after discovering that Jumalon had filed criminal complaints against two people over a piece of land in Calamba.

As the killing was unfolding, the lookout man whose face was depicted in the composite sketch, was holding the caretaker of Jumlan’s house “at gunpoint as seen in surveillance video,” Donato told reporters in Ozamiz City.

Jumalon, who owned Gold FM Calamba 94.7 radio station in Misamis Occidental, was part of a growing trend of community radio stations in the Philippines, according to Ronald Rufin, who heads the local chapter of the Association of Philippine Broadcasters. 

Jumalon’s death marked the fourth killing of a member of the media since President Marcos took office in mid-2022 and raised the count to 199 journalists slain since the Philippines returned to democracy in 1986.

The Southeast Asian nation ranks as the seventh most dangerous country for journalists on the Global Impunity Index 2022, prepared by the Committee to Protect Journalists, alongside war-torn nations such as Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

“The attack is even more condemnable since it happened at Jumalon’s own home,” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in a statement on Sunday. “The killing also comes in the same week as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.”

The story was updated to add a statement from the Committee to Protect Journalists.


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