Members of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines join a protest in Quezon City to condemn media killings on the anniversary of the massacre of 34 media members in November 2009. (Photo by Jimmy A. Domingo)
Philippine media groups slammed President-elect Rodrigo Duterte for saying that most slain Filipino journalists "have done something" and have become legitimate targets of assassination.
The mostly Catholic Philippines has been on the top 20 list of deadliest countries for journalists since 2007 with at least 176 journalists killed since 1986 when democracy was restored in the country.
"[Duterte's] observation is too sweeping, generalized, and therefore unfair to the victims," said Paul Gutierrez, president of the National Press Club of the Philippines.
In a press conference on May 31, Duterte said journalists "are not exempted from assassination, if you're a son of a bitch."
The incoming president made the statement when asked how he would address the problem of media killings in the Philippines after a reporter was shot dead in Manila last week.
"You won't be killed if you don't do anything wrong," Duterte said.
"Freedom of expression won’t save you. The Constitution cannot help you if you slander a person," said the president-elect who will be sworn into office June 30.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said Duterte has "declared open season to silence the media, both individual journalists and the institution, on the mere perception of corruption."
The media group said that while it recognizes that corruption in the media is one of the possible reasons of media killings, "it is a totally different thing to present this as a justification for taking life."
"To simplify media killing as due to corruption is to gloss over the fact that media killings happen due to the still prevalent culture of impunity in the country," said Gutierrez.
Michaella Ortega, daughter of slain journalist and environmental activist Gerry Ortega, said Duterte's statement "came as a shock to us."
"Our family is incensed by the hasty and crass generalizations made about murdered journalists in the country," she said.
"[My father] was killed for his courage and integrity. He was murdered precisely because he was honorable. He fought for social justice," she added.
Ortega was killed in January 2011 for his exposes on corruption in the province of Palawan, including the misuse of billions of pesos from government energy projects.
Michaella said Duterte's statement is "alarming" because it casts "absolute judgment on all murdered journalists including those who were killed for telling the truth."
Duterte's spokesman, however, said the incoming president's statement was taken out of context.
"Again and as usual, Rody Duterte was taken out of context, misinterpreted and misunderstood," said Peter Lavina.
"Certainly, Duterte has no personal knowledge on each and every single case of media killings in many parts of the country," Lavina said.
"In the context of Duterte's campaign against corruption, his remarks indeed should be seen to mean a reminder or a message that there are also corruption in mass media," he said.