Updated at 12:37 p.m. ET on 2018-05-03
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte dispatched a special team to investigate the killing of a local broadcaster earlier this week as the nation marked World Press Freedom Day on Thursday, the government said.
A team from a presidential task force on media security was ordered to investigate the killing of crusading broadcaster Edmund Sestoso, who died Tuesday, 24 hours after he was gunned down by two men on a motorbike in the central Philippines, a presidential spokesman said.
“We condemn all these killings and we are assuring the public that the government is doing all it can to fulfill its responsibility,” Duterte spokesman Harry Roque told reporters in Manila. “We will investigate that, try the accused and those found guilty of murdering will be punished.”
He said the government prioritized investigating Sestoso’s killing.
Described as a simple man whose program on the dyGB radio station tackled corruption and other issues, Sestoso, 50, was fatally shot in Dumaguete city.
He was the ninth journalist to be killed since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016 and the 182nd since dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in 1986.
While Duterte’s government has been in power for only about two years, Roque said he had never “forgotten the press people who were killed.” He said the president had vowed to solve the deaths and punish those found guilty.
He urged members of the media who felt threatened to approach the government’s own task force and coordinate their security.
Sestoso’s killing came a day after gunmen shot and killed a priest who was known to fight for causes affecting the local indigenous community in the north.
While police have yet to establish the motive for the killing of Father Mark Anthony Ventura, the church has been at odds with Duterte over his anti-drugs crackdown that has left thousands dead. In addition, he recently ordered an Australian nun expelled from the country after she joined street protests criticizing his regime.
On Thursday, media groups led by the Philippine Press Institute, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility issued a joint statement saying the Duterte regime had “altered and controlled the public discourse so radically.”
“In his first 22 months in power, Mr. Duterte has earned the dubious honor of logging 85 various cases of attacks (on the) inalienable rights of citizens,” the statement said. It noted the nine killings of journalists and the filing of 16 libel cases.