Veteran Filipino Journalist Who Covered Duterte’s Violent War on Drugs Shot Dead

Camille Elemia and Richel V. Umel
Manila and Iligan City, southern Philippines
Veteran Filipino Journalist Who Covered Duterte’s Violent War on Drugs Shot Dead

A veteran journalist who helped an international news agency extensively cover the Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs was shot and killed Wednesday evening in the central Philippines, his colleagues said.

Two unidentified suspects shot Jesus Malabanan, a reporter for local publications the Manila Standard and Bandera, and who also worked as a stringer for the Reuters news agency, around 6:30 p.m., while he was at the family store in Calbayog city, his wife Mila and police said.

“We were watching television when a shot rang out at close range. I didn’t see the gunman because it was dark,” colleagues quoted Mila as saying.

Police who responded at the crime scene said Malabanan was immediately taken to a hospital but pronounced dead upon arrival. He died instantly after being shot in the head, his wife said.

Malabanan was “shot from the outside by two unidentified suspects with the use of [an] undetermined caliber of firearm,” local police said in their incident report.

Joel Sy Egco, executive director of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) and a former media colleague of Malabanan, said the journalist’s killing was being investigated and a manhunt for the suspects was underway.

“He does not have enemies [in Calbayog] because of his media work,” Egco told BenarNews, adding that the task force has been in contact with Malabanan’s friends and associates.

PTFoMs is the main government agency that keeps track of killings of members of the media. The special task force includes the police and government investigators.

Manny Mogato, a former Reuters correspondent who was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent war on illegal drugs, said the news agency had helped Malabanan relocate to Calbayog in Samar province from Pampanga province in the north after he received threats to his life.

Mogato did not specify what Malabanan was threatened with and whether it was related to his reporting on the drug war.

“Jes helped Reuters a lot in the drug war stories that won a Pulitzer in 2018,” Mogato said on Facebook.

“Reuters helped him hid[e] for months in Samar when he was threatened in San Fernando, Pampanga.”

Malabanan was a long-time stringer for Reuters and a defense beat reporter in the 1980s, Mogato said.

“[He] helped me with stories in Pampanga when I was the Reuters political correspondent for 15 years from 2003 [onward],” he added.

The Pampanga Press Club, where Malabanan was a member, condemned his killing.

“We call on the Philippine National Police and other authorities to help in the prompt investigation that would lead to the arrest of the perpetrators of this cowardly act in the interest of justice,” the group said in a statement.

If Malabanan’s killing is proven to be linked to his work, he would be the 22nd journalist slain in the Philippines since Duterte became president in 2016, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said.

In October, a reporter named Orlando Dinoy was killed after he was shot six times by a suspect who entered his home in the southern Philippines. 

Since 1992, 87 mediapersons have been killed in the country because of their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Duterte and the Philippine press rarely get along and critics say he crack downs on media that criticize his performance and his war on drugs.

The president had once warned reporters saying that “just because you’re a journalist, you are not exempt from assassination, if you are a son of a b****.”

Duterte’s allies in Congress last year voted to shut down television network ABS-CBN Corp.

Separately, Maria Ressa, the head of online news site Rappler, was convicted of cyber libel, but remains free pending an appeal.

Ressa won a Nobel Peace Prize this year and is now in Norway to receive her award.


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