A journalist who helped the Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters news agency investigate President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has been shot dead – the latest victim of ongoing violence against people working in the media in the Philippines.
According to a statement from the Philippine National Police Headquarters on Thursday, Jesus “Jess” Malabanan was shot in the head on Wednesday evening while watching television at his shop in Calbayog, a town on the central island of Samar. Earlier Calbayog Police reportedly said the victim was killed inside his home.
The police report also indicates that two unidentified assailants carried out the attack. They have not been arrested.
Malabanan was rushed to a private hospital in the city but was pronounced dead on arrival.
Prior to Malabanan’s murder, data compiled by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) showed that at least 21 journalists had been killed in the country since Duterte took over as president in June 2016.
In October, online journalist and radio commentator Orlando Dinoy was killed at his apartment in the southern Davao region, Duterte’s stronghold. Her alleged attacker was arrested and later charged with murder, but a government spokesman said Dinoy’s killing was unrelated to his work.
In May, a journalist turned politician was killed in the province of Capiz, in the center of the island of Panay.
Until Wednesday’s latest deadly attack, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 87 media workers had been killed in the line of duty in the Philippines since 1992, when it said started collecting data from around the world.
CPJ’s Impunity Index released in late October ranks the Philippines seventh in the world for unsolved murders of journalists.
Including the recent murder of Malabanan, there have been at least 14 unsolved murders of journalists in the country. Most of the killings took place in the provinces, where journalists enjoy less protection than their colleagues in the capital, Manila, when covering controversial news.
In a statement, Philippine National Police Chief General Dionardo Carlos said his agency is “doing its best to identify and immediately arrest the person responsible” for the murder.
As a freelance journalist, Malabanan has contributed articles to several Philippines-based publications as well as the Reuters news agency.
In a social media post, journalist Manny Mogato, who was also part of the Reuters team that won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, wrote that Malabanan “helped Reuters a lot with the drug war stories who won a Pulitzer in 2018”.
Reports said Malabanan had been threatened in his hometown of Pampanga in the north, so he decided to move to Samar in the central Philippines.
“I have joined other journalists in condemning the killing of Jess…this is totally unacceptable. Justice for Jess,” Mogato added.
In #Oslo with @mariaressaget ready for @Nobel prize #Nobel Prize of Peace events. It is chilling to learn that this evening, Wednesday 8 December, another journalist was killed in the #Philippines. The balance sheet is getting heavier.
Rest in power, “Jess” Malabanan.
— Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC (@caoilfhionnanna) December 8, 2021
Reuters’ award-winning series of stories revealed “the brutal murderous campaign behind Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs,” as Pulitzer quoted. The Reuters team reported on the role of Davao police officers in the deadly drug raids in Manila, as well as the use of hospitals to cover up drug-related killings.
Duterte’s war on drugs, which left thousands of suspected drug suspects dead, is now under investigation by the International Criminal Court.
On Thursday afternoon, the president’s spokesman, Karlo Nograles, said “the government will make every effort to ensure that those responsible are arrested, charged and sentenced for this crime.”
Duterte has previously cursed foreign journalists for their reporting and said corrupt journalists are legitimate targets of assassination.
A confessed hitman from Davao, Duterte’s hometown, also told a Senate committee hearing that the then-mayor ordered the killing of a radio commentator who criticized him.
Before taking office, Duterte also reportedly said that radio commentator Jun Pala was “a rotten son of a bitch”, who “deserved” to be killed.
In a statement, the Pampanga Press Club called on the authorities “to contribute to a prompt investigation that would lead to the arrest of the perpetrators of this cowardly act in the interests of justice”.
The NUJP also released a statement “condemning the senseless killing” of Malabanan.
Caoilfhionn Gallagher, an international human rights lawyer and journalists’ advocate, described the news of the latest murder as “chilling”, as she prepared for the events in Oslo linked to the Nobel Peace Prize.
The prize is awarded on Friday to Filipino journalist Maria Ressa and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov.