Unidentified gunmen have killed two journalists in the southern Philippines during the past few days, police said, as press monitors and a lawmaker called on authorities to investigate the deaths immediately and do more to shield local reporters from attacks.
If work-related, the murders of Rudy Alicaway and Leonardo Diaz by gunmen on motorcycles in separate incidents would have brought to 177 the number of Filipino reporters killed in the line of duty since 1986, according to a statement from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
“The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemns the murder of two journalists in as many days in Zamboanga del Sur and Sultan Kudarat provinces,” the union said in a statement posted Monday on Facebook.
“The killings happened in the two provinces of Mindanao even as the whole region is under Martial Law,” the NUJP said, adding, “This again highlights the culture of impunity in the attacks against and killings of Filipino journalists that have remained unabated despite an international outcry.”
Late last month, the Philippine Congress voted to extend President Rodrigo Duterte’s order placing Mindanao island under military rule, for the remainder of 2017 in order to quell a siege by Islamic State-linked militants in the southern city of Marawi.
“The incidents bring to fore the violence and culture of impunity in the attacks against Filipino journalists,” Sen. Grace Poe said Tuesday in a statement reacting to the killings of the two reporters. “They should be able to report stories and issues relevant to the Filipinos, and we know that journalists have risen to the occasion despite the odds.”
According to local reports that cited police, two men aboard a motorcycle gunned down Rudy Alicaway, a 46-year-old who worked as an anchor at DXPB 106.9, a state-run radio station, while he was heading home Sunday near the town of Molave, in Zamboanga del Sur. Alicaway did not immediately die from initial shots, but the gunmen finished him off as he tried to crawl away, police said.
The motive for the attack has not yet been established, but police noted that Alicaway was also an elected village councilman.
The following day, gunmen shot and killed Radio Mindanao Network reporter Leonardo Diaz, who also wrote a column for a local tabloid, in Sultan Kudarat province. Police said the assailants shot him from a motorbike in a mid-morning attack. Two companions who were with him were injured, and taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, police said.
“Until President Rodrigo Duterte shows he is serious about protecting journalists, these types of brazen killings will continue in an unbroken cycle of impunity,” Shawn Crispin, the Southeast Asia representative for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said in a statement issued on Monday.
Last month, an unknown assailant shot and critically wounded another radio commentator, Julito Orlillandea, in the town of Marihatag, also in Mindanao, CPJ noted.
The Philippines is ranked fourth on the CPJ’s latest “impunity index,” a measure of countries around the world where journalists are wantonly killed.
Eight years ago, 57 people were killed – 34 of them media workers – in the southern province of Maguindanao in what is still considered the single deadliest day for journalists in the Philippines.
The newsmen were part of a convoy that followed supporters of a politician to the province of Maguindanao, but were stopped at a checkpoint and shot dead allegedly by gunmen supporting a rival politician.
Almost 100 people have been jailed and charged with murder, but none so far has been convicted, in a trial that one politician said in the past could stretch for dozens of years.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Marawi, Philippines contributed to this report.