ICHRP Canada strongly condemns the killing of radio broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa on October 3 by unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle. Percy Mabasa is the second journalist killed since Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office in June. Just weeks ago, radio broadcaster Rey Blanco was stabbed to death on September 18 in Negros Oriental.
We laud the Embassy of Canada in the Philippines for its joint statement with the Embassy of The Netherlands, in expressing “deep concern”, noting that the unabated media killings only “create a chilling effect that curtails the ability of journalists to report” freely and safely. ICHRP Canada urges the Canadian embassy to continue working with other diplomatic missions in pressing the Philippine Government to take swift action to investigate the killing, bring the perpetrators to justice and “create a safe environment for journalists to carry out their work without fear for their lives and safety.”
Percy Mabasa was a respected broadcaster whose commentaries were critical of the Duterte and Marcos Jr. administrations. He spoke out on extrajudicial killings, red-tagging, corruption, and recently, on the red-tagging of Manila Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar and on historical distortions of the Martial Law period.
According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the killing demonstrates that journalism remains a dangerous profession in the country. The international press freedom organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), listed the Philippines among the seven most dangerous country for journalists in 2021.
The Philippines has a long track record of extrajudicial killings. According to Rappler, the leading digital media organization, during the administration of past president Rodrigo Duterte, 421 activists, human rights defenders and community organizers, 22 journalists, 65 judges and lawyers and 27 mayors and vice mayors were killed vigilante-style, frequently by motorcycle-riding assailants. These killings are principally driven by the War on Drugs, the practice of red-tagging and the fact that such “riding-in-tandem” attacks are rarely punished.
The Philippine government’s task force on counterinsurgency, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the 2020 Anti-Terror Law, have institutionalized red-tagging, which is the practice of branding Filipinos who are critical of the government as “communist rebels” and “terrorists”. Red-tagging designates them as acceptable targets of counterinsurgency efforts and incites vigilante harassment.
Red-tagged individuals are susceptible to illegal searches, arrests, detentions, and extrajudicial killings. In Negros Island, attorney Benjamin Ramos, peasant leader Jose “Jerry” Catalogo of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), and human rights defenders Bernardo Patigas and Zara Alvarez were slain by unidentified gunmen between 2018-2020. The targets of red-tagging have expanded to include church people, development workers, journalists and even judges. Filipina radio journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, who reported on police and military abuses has been detained on trumped-up charges of “illegal firearms possession” since 2020.
ICHRP Canada strongly supports the Canadian embassy in calling on the Philippine Government to thoroughly investigate the attacks on media workers and bring the perpetrators to justice.
ICHRP Canada reminds the Canadian government that by supporting the Philippine Government’s anti-terrorism programs, it may inadvertently become complicit in rights violations committed by the Philippine government and its security agents. We note that between 2017-2021, the Philippine government has received a portion of Canada’s $13 million funding for ASEAN’s counterterrorism programs, and between 2018-2021, it has directly received nearly $3.1 million in counterterrorism assistance through Official Development Assistance, bilateral aid, and funding for miscellaneous security programs.
The Philippine government’s anti-terrorism laws and programs are used as tools to repress dissent and pose a grave threat to journalists, human rights defenders and Filipino citizens who exercise their rights and freedoms.
ICHRP Canada reiterates our call to review and halt all such assistance if the Canadian government is serious about ensuring the safety of journalists in the Philippines.
Justice for Percy Lapid!
Defend press freedom!
Stop the killings!