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Second Filipino journalist slain in a week

National Press Club warns of "worse days ahead"

Second Filipino journalist slain in a week

Vergel Bico, who was murdered on September 4 reporter, Manila

September 5, 2013

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Motorcycle-riding gunmen shot and killed a Filipino journalist in the southern city of Calapan on Wednesday, the second such incident in the space of a week.

Vergel Bico, editor of Bandera Pilipino, sustained two gunshot wounds to the head. He is the 20th journalist to have been killed since President Benigno Aquino was elected in 2010.

On Aug 29, two gunmen also shot and killed radio broadcaster Fernando Solijon in Iligan City.

Five journalists have now been killed in the last two months. They also include newspaper columnists Richard Kho and Bonifacio Loreto, who were gunned down in Manila on July 30, and photojournalist Mario Sy, who was shot and killed in General Santos City on August 1.

Bico was the 158th journalist killed in the line of duty since 1986, when democracy was restored in the country. He has been described by colleagues as a "hard-hitting columnist" and a "staunch critic" of illegal gambling operations in the province.

The National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC) issued a statement warning members of the Philippine media to expect "worse days ahead" with the spate of killings of media workers.

"We hate to say this, but the Philippine press ... is now under siege with its members being wantonly killed," said Marlon Purificacion, NPC vice president, in an interview on Thursday.

He said that on top of fearing for their lives, "we have to contend with physical attacks and libel cases from all imaginable sources."

"[We] are beginning to despair over the continued indifference being displayed on the journalists' plight by top officials of the government."

Also on Wednesday, a local court in the southern city of Davao found the editor in chief of the Sun-Star newspaper guilty of libel.

Stella Estremera and publisher Antonio Ajero had failed to get a version of events from a local official accused by the police of selling illegal drugs. Estremera claimed the information had come from a police source.

"Imagine, you can be jailed by even just reporting on something that is based on a police report," said Jessie Casalda of the local union of journalists.

The International Federation of Journalism (IFJ) on Thursday issued a statement expressing concerm over the "spate of assaults on press freedom by political and business figures in the Philippines in recent weeks."

The IFJ noted that libel remains a criminal offence under Philippine law despite the UN Human Rights Council's view that it violates freedom of expression.

"The IFJ is deeply concerned at the methods used by powerful interests to effectively bludgeon the Filipino media and prevent them from reporting legitimate news in the public interest," said the IFJ statement.

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