A Filipino journalist, who contributed to the Reuters’ Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation on President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war in 2018, was shot dead by a gunman while watching television at his family’s store in Calbayog City, Samar province, on Wednesday.
Jesus “Jess” Malabanan, 58, a correspondent for the Manila Standard who had also worked for Reuters as a stringer, was shot in the head by a gunman at around 6.30 p.m. He was rushed to a nearby hospital but was declared dead on arrival.
According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), witnesses were unable to identify the gunman but claimed to have seen the gunman fleeing on a motorcycle with a rider companion.
Police had immediately conducted checkpoint operations at some exit points to intercept the suspects and are currently gathering copies of CCTV footage that may aid in the ongoing probe.
In a statement, PNP Chief General Dionardo Carlos said that authorities have also received reports of Malabanan receiving threats, which could be related to his profession or “other personal angles.”
“We understand the call of the family and different groups to expedite the investigation of the case. These requests will not fall on deaf ears. Establishing the motive of the case can help us in going to the bottom of this. We just need the cooperation of the witnesses,” Carlos said.
The Presidential Task Force on Media Security said it condemned “in the strongest terms” the killing of Malabanan and is currently carrying a “hot pursuit operation” to apprehend the suspects who reportedly fled towards the direction of San Isidro, Northern Samar.
“Jess is a personal friend of mine. This cowardly killing in the midst of a pandemic is truly unforgivable. We will get to the bottom of this and will stop at nothing in bringing to justice the perpetrators of this despicable crime,” Executive Director Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco said in a statement.
Malabanan’s close friends and colleagues indicated the victim had no known enemies and was not “a hard-hitting journalist”, the task force said, adding that Malabanan had expressed plans to “stay for good” in Samar and focus on his farming business.
The task force also noted that Malabanan was given policy security in 2017 at his request, though it did not disclose why Malabanan requested security.
Shawn Crispin, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) senior Southeast Asia representative, said the killing of Malabanan would inevitably have “a chilling effect” on reporters covering the drug war in the Philippines.
“Philippine authorities must leave no stone unturned in identifying the killers of journalist Jesus Malabanan, as well as anyone who planned the attack, and determine whether he was targeted over his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign,” Crispin said.
The Philippines is one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists, with about 151 journalists and media workers reportedly killed there since 1992, according to the CPJ’s stats.
CPJ also ranked the Philippines seventh on its Impunity Index, which spotlights countries worldwide where journalists are slain, and the perpetrators go free.