On Mr. Duterte’s Accusation That Journalists Killed In The Philippines Were Corrupt

FAPCNY-LogoWe, the Filipino American Press Club of New York, view with serious concern the recent statements made by incoming President Rodrigo Duterte about the killing of journalists in the Philippines.

During a press briefing on May 31, Mr. Duterte made the following statements when asked what he plans to do to stop the killing of journalists in the Philippines:

  • “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”
  • “You (journalists) will not be killed if you did not do anything wrong.”
  • “If you are a decent journalist, no one will do you harm.”
  • “The reason they (journalists) are killed, it’s because they were corrupt.” (Translation is ours) 

We criticize these statements as sweeping, unfounded and dangerous generalizations. They betray a general lack of respect for the rule of law and basic human rights.

Ironically, Mr. Duterte’s statements seem to negate the announcement made just a day earlier by his spokesman saying that the incoming President will create a task force that will investigate the wanton killing of journalists in the country.

Seventy-seven Filipino journalists have been killed from 1992 to 2016, according to the NYC-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Many of them are media practitioners reporting from remote provinces and regions. With his reckless statements, Mr. Duterte is sending a disturbing signal to local politicians and warlords that journalists are fair game.

Mr. Duterte accused the slain journalists of corruption, but did not offer any proof. By calling the slain journalists corrupt, he disrespected the memory of the men and women whose lives were cut short by the culture of impunity.

Worse, by blaming corruption in the media for the deaths of journalists, Mr. Duterte is explicitly saying that the murder of media men and women is justified. His words may have wittingly or unwittingly put the lives of working press people in danger. All that is needed is to label a journalist corrupt – or in Mr. Duterte’s own words, “son of a bitch” – and he or she becomes an easy target for assassination.

By saying that journalists are not exempt from assassination, the incoming President is implying that the killing of journalists is more the rule than the exception in a supposedly democratic country that claims to have a vibrant free press.

Rather than do something to stop the culture of impunity, Mr. Duterte is actually condoning it. Rather than condemning the perpetrators of the murders who until now have remained scot-free, Mr. Duterte instead put the blame on the slain journalists, insinuating that they may have done something wrong that led to their deaths.

The Filipino American Press Club of New York believes that a free press plays a crucial role in a democracy. The role of the press is to provide truthful, relevant and useful information that will help the people come up with informed decisions, which make them effective participants in society. It is the task of the press to expose abuses of state power, and to give voice to the powerless. It is also the duty of the press to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

We believe that the incoming President’s statement can have a chilling effect that might prevent journalists in the Philippines from performing these tasks.

We in the FAPCNY disapprove of corruption in the media, with the same seriousness that we denounce the vendetta murders of journalists. Mr. Duterte’s cavalier attitude betrays a lack of understanding and appreciation of the principles of a free press, which is a hallmark of a democratic, dynamic, transparent and enlightened society.

Corruption is not and should never be a justification for killing media people. Complaints against media people should be brought before the courts and should not be settled with the barrel of a gun.

We stand in solidarity with our fellow journalists in the Philippines, who have borne the brunt and will continue to bear the brunt of this culture of impunity.
We encourage the international media community to issue statements of concerns, write open letters to Mr. Duterte expressing their apprehensions, and to continue to monitor developments in the Philippines concerning freedom of the press.

We call on Mr. Duterte to take the lead in ensuring that a free press will flourish, to initiate measures that will safeguard the safety of journalists and to honor the pronouncement of his spokesman that he will investigate the killings of journalists in the Philippines.

Until and unless Mr. Duterte takes decisive action to curb the harassment and killing of journalists, his incoming government’s press freedom record runs the risk of being mentioned in the same breath as that of the Marcos martial law government.

Statement of the Filipino American Press Club of New York issued on June 1, 2016.

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