Filipino journalist’s confessed killer gets 16 years

Reporters Without Borders ranks Philippines as 'a dangerous place' for journalists due to recurring attacks and killings

Ronald O. Reyes

Updated: May 08, 2024 03:20 AM GMT

Family members grieve the loss of Filipino journalist Percival Mabasa at their home in Las Pinas in this file image. (Photo: Jam Sta Rosa/AFP)

A court in the Philippines handed down 16 years imprisonment to the self-confessed killer of a prominent radio journalist on May 6.

Judge Cesar Huliganga of the Las Piñas Regional Trial Court in the national capital region of Manila delivered the verdict against Joel Escorial who gunned down Percival Mabasa on Oct. 3, 2022. He later surrendered to the police and confessed to the crime.

Journalist Roy Mabasa, the younger brother of the slain journalist, welcomed the court's verdict.

We honor the slain journalist by entrusting everything to God, yet our quest for justice will persist until all the masterminds are imprisoned, the younger Mabasa said in a statement on May 7.

Mabasa told journalists that as an accomplice to the murder, Escorial will stay in the custody of the Philippine National Police Custodial Center until the trial of Christopher Bacoto, another alleged accomplice, concludes.

The government prosecutors have identified former Bureau of Corrections director general Gerald Bantag as the primary suspect in Mabasa's murder.

Percival Mabasa reportedly exposed Bantag's alleged illegal activities. Bantag remains at large.

Percival Mabasa, then 66 and popularly known as Percy Lapid was shot near his home in Metro Manila.

A well-known critic of President Ferdinand Marcos and his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, Mabasa was a broadcaster with DWBL radio station where he hosted a popular program called Lapid Fire.

He earlier worked for about a dozen radio stations.

His radio commentaries criticized government policies and actions, including impunity for irregularities and corruption, disinformation, the deadly war on drugs, and the so-called red-tagging of dissidents and activists as supporters of the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Carlos Conde, a senior researcher with the New York-based Human Rights Watch, hailed the verdict, which came three days after World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

While this development is good news indeed, this hardly makes a dent in the impunity for media killings in the Philippines, Conde told UCA News on May 7.

For one thing, the mastermind or masterminds of the Percy Lapid murder are still at large and not prosecuted. The Marcos administration should work harder to ensure that killings are investigated, arrested, and prosecuted – that's the first step for any meaningful reform, Conde added.

Media watchdogs frequently rank the Catholic-majority nation as one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists for a series of killings and constant attacks on media persons.

According to the State of Media Freedom in the Philippines 2024, released on May 3, at least 135 incidents of attacks and threats against media workers in the Philippines took place between July 1, 2022, and April 30, 2024.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked the Philippines as a dangerous place for journalists in the World Press Freedom Index 2024. The country was ranked 134th among 180 countries and territories covered in the index.

It criticized the Philippines for impunity for killing and attacks against journalists, including the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre in southern Philippines that left 32 reporters killed in a single attack.

Impunity for these crimes is almost total. In an attempt to address this issue, the government set up a Presidential Task Force on Media Security in 2016, but this inter-ministerial body has proved unable to stem the vicious cycle of violence against journalists, RSF said.

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