As It Happens

Journalists in the Philippines fear for their safety after popular commentator gunned down

The killing of an outspoken radio broadcaster in the Philippines has journalists in the country fearing for press freedom, as well as their own safety.

Percival Mabasa was shot dead by motorcycle-riding gunmen in 'brazen' attack

Journalists and activists call for justice and protection of media workers during an indignation rally following the killing of Filipino radio journalist Percival Mabasa, in Quezon City, Philippines, on Oct. 4, 2022. (Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

The killing of an outspoken radio broadcaster in the Philippines has journalists in the country fearing for press freedom, as well as for their own safety.

"We felt like that was a very brazen attack, meant to send a chilling effect on all of us," said Lian Buan, a reporter for the online news site Rappler and board member of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

Motorcycle-riding gunmen killed Percival Mabasa, 63, a longtime radio commentator, in metropolitan Manila in the latest attack on a member of the media in the Philippines.

Mabasa, who used the broadcast name Percy Lapid, was critical of former president Rodrigo Duterte who oversaw a deadly crackdown on illegal drugs, and his successor who took office in June, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of a dictator ousted in a 1986 pro-democracy uprising.

Mabasa had "a huge following" online, said Buan — a difficult task in a landscape dominated by vloggers and influencers who vocally supported Marcos Jr., and Duterte before him.

"He was competing with the space that trolls and propagandists would normally take," Buan told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

Red-tagging

Mabasa was the second journalist killed under Marcos Jr. after last month's fatal stabbing of broadcaster Renato "Rey" Blanco, who was killed in the central Philippines, hundreds of miles south of the capital.

The Philippines is considered one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists, ranking 147th out of 180 listed countries in the 2022 edition of Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index.

Buan said Mabasa was particularly outspoken against the practice of "red-tagging," where the government publicly labels or accuses dissenters such as protesters and journalists as communists.

Red-tagging has been used in the Philippines for decades, according to a story by Human Rights Watch.

It became more prevalent during Duterte's reign, after he established an official red-tagging task force.

Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, takes oath beside his wife Louise Araneta-Marcos and their three sons during the inauguration ceremony at the National Museum in Manila on June 30, 2022. (Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

The Marcos Jr. government has ordered an investigation into Mabasa's death, but Buan — who says she herself has been red-tagged in the past — isn't optimistic.

"We've seen this [type of] statement over and over again since Duterte and even presidents before Duterte. What we have not seen are results that would stop politically motivated killings like this, and cases which are actually solved. We haven't seen that for quite a long time," she said.

Marcos Jr. scored a rare landslide victory in June's election, helped by what his critics see as a decades-long effort to alter public perceptions of a family that lived lavishly at the helm of one of the world's most notorious kleptocracies. 

Activists light candles beside slogans as they condemn the killing of Percival Mabasa, who was also known as Percy Lapid. (Aaron Favila/The Associated Press)

The elder Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines for two decades starting in 1965, almost half of it under martial law. He was eventually ousted in a popular uprising known as the People Power Revolution.

Thousands of Marcos' opponents were jailed, killed or disappeared during his rule, and the family name became synonymous with cronyism, extravagance and the disappearance of billions of dollars from state coffers. The Marcos family has rejected accusations of embezzlement.

Misinformation in the Marcos Jr. era

Nearly 200 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1986, when Marcos Sr. was overthrown, according to the journalists' union. The group led a protest Tuesday night and called on the government to do more to stop the killing of journalists.

Buan said journalists felt there was a brief "honeymoon period" after the election of Marcos Jr. But she added they were concerned about his presidential campaign's wide use of misinformation and disinformation, to the point where many voters trusted government sources and social media commentators, instead of independent and critical news media.

"He has a history of lying. He has a history of misrepresenting his education, his background. Nobody believes the atrocities perpetrated by his father. Nobody believes the ill-gotten wealth that the entire family has amassed over the years," she said.

"And 31 million people voted for him. So we felt that was an affront to the entire journalism community."

"When that's how big the enemy is, [with] such a very coordinated disinformation network, and you have your colleagues dying, then … that paints a grim picture."


With files from Reuters and The Associated Press. Interview with Lian Buan produced by Morgan Passi.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Ore

Journalist

Jonathan Ore is a writer and editor for CBC Radio Digital in Toronto. He regularly covers the video games industry for CBC Radio programs across the country and has also covered arts & entertainment, technology and the games industry for CBC News.

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