“Fact-check” Report Misinformed, Failed to get Facts, Context of Killing of 9 Journalists in 22 Months of Duterte

A CONSOLIDATED report on the state of press freedom in the country was produced and launched on May 3, 2018, World Press Freedom Day, by four media organizations — Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and Philippine Press Institute (PPI).

Data enrolled in the consolidated report has been called “false” — that nine journalists had been killed in the line of duty in the first 22 months in office of President Rodrigo R. Duterte  by a recent VERA Files attempt to “fact-check” the report that, ironically, failed to get the story right on the level of both facts and context.

The four organizations believe that the following background will explain and clarify for the public both content and context of the information on the killings of journalists.

CMFR has been monitoring attacks and threats since 1992. CMFR reports the killing of every journalist. But it is only after interviews with family members, colleagues in the press and those familiar with the work of the victim is a case included in the CMFR database of killings in the line of duty. So there will be periods when such cases are not yet reflected in the database. There are 159 cases of media murders now on record since April 1986. However, two names have not yet been uploaded on the CMFR database.

It is unfortunate that this context was lost on the fact-checking process of VERA Files.

It is natural that at any given point in time, CMFR and NUJP will post different counts; or that there will be disagreements about the classification, while noting the importance of reporting every journalist who is killed, as it reflects the landscape of violence that affects not just journalists. The database has served as reference for CMFR’s periodic analytical reports as well as guidance for press freedom advocacy and campaigns of different groups concerned. CMFR has a separate web page that presents various other aspects of the state of press freedom, not just killings, but also the range of attacks and threats which afflict the press community.

In recent years, the two organizations have worked more closely together,  engaging more actively in discussing problematic cases – definitely a step in the right direction.

As the two groups prepared the report, CMFR had not yet included all the cases during the Duterte administration in its database. But given the additional information from the ground, CMFR decided that NUJP safety offices had gleaned enough information which justified the classification of all nine as work-related.

On the count of killings during the first 22 months of the Aquino administration, with the two years since the end of the previous presidency, CMFR and NUJP agreed on the nine cases which each organization classified as work-related during the period reported.

The two organizations applied the same methodology, using the same measures, to produce the two counts. Both organizations would have been open to explain this to VERA Files or any one inquiring.

During the presentation of the report on May 3, CMFR also noted that the frame of 22 months does not reflect the total reality of attacks and threats of past administrations which lasted longer.

A pointed example, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s numbers are small because the Ampatuan massacre on November 23 occurred later in her term, which added about 32 more journalist victims to the count before that tragedy. CMFR also pointed out that killings reflect the systemic conditions which make up the “culture of impunity” – not particular to any administration.

Keeping track of the killings involves continuing review and new information can come up to revive cold cases or cause re-classification of cases. Both NUJP and CMFR are open to revising classification if information comes up to justify a change.

We are sharing as well the NUJP reports on each of the nine cases summarized below. The important thing is keep watch, as only vigilance and full awareness of the reality of attacks and threats will help journalists respond in a meaningful way to the challenges that face the media.  — CMFR, NUJP, PCIJ, PPI, 10 May 2018


NUJP’s reports on each of the nine cases are summarized below:

  1. MARIO CANTAOI: Broadcaster-university professor killed in Ilocos Sur

Northern Luzon lost its first journalist under the Duterte administration when Mario Cantaoi was shot dead by motorcycle-riding gunmen on the national highway in Barangay San Ramon, Magsingal town, Ilocos Sur the night of January 7, 2017.

Aside from working at Catholic church-owned radio station dzNS, Cantaoi was also a professor at University of Northern Philippines.

Provincial police director Senior Superintendent Rey de Peralta was quoted in a news report as saying Cantaoi’s work as a journalist was not likely a reason for the broadcaster’s murder, although to date authorities have yet to determine the motive. The victim’s wife also said her husband had no known enemies.

But the environmental advocacy group KALIKASAN PNE believes Cantaoi’s commentaries against the destruction of the environment and the militarization of communities opposed to mining led to his killing. ###


  1. CHRISTOPHER LOZADA: Radioman shot dead day after Ombudsman ousts Bislig Mayor

Christopher Lozada, 29, a program host at station dxBF of Prime Broadcasting Network, was involved in the filing of charges against Bislig City Mayor Librado Navarro over the questionable purchase of a P14.7-million hydraulic excavator in 2012.

On October 23, 2017, the Office of the Ombudsman ordered Navarro and 11 others dismissed from the service over the alleged anomaly.

Around 9 p.m. the next day, Lozada was driving home when gunmen in a van opened fire, killing him. His common-law wife, Honey Faith Indog, was wounded in the attack.

According to his sister*, before his murder, Lozada had been receiving a series of death threats sent from an unknown number. One of the texts said: “95 days ka nalang, umalis ka na dito sa Bislig kundi papatayin kita (You have 95 days left. Leave Bislig or I will kill you).”

She said they have not been able to file charges against the suspected killers, Rolly Mahilum and Felixberto Villocino, and Navarro, who the family has accused of ordering Lozada’s death, because the former mayor is monitoring them.

The principal witness, Lozada’s partner Honey Faith, has been enrolled in the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice but her family reportedly lives in fear because Navarro is keeping an eye on them.

Before the Ombudsman resolution dismissing him, Navarro allegedly offered a car and a P50,000 monthly allowance to Lozada to make him withdraw the case but the broadcaster refused, saying: “Kahit mahirap po kami, ayaw kong magkaroon ng ganyang kalaking pera kung galing naman sa masama (Even if we are poor, I do not want to earn that much money from wrongdoing).”

Lozada was insistent about filing charges against Navarro. “Kahit ikamatay ko pa, gagawin ko ang dapat (Even if it costs my life, I will do what is right).” ###


  1. JOAQUIN BRIONES: Hard-hitting Masbate columnist gunned down

Remate columnist Joaquin Briones, a former commentator of station dyME, was gunned down as he was heading home around 8:45 a.m. of March 13, 2017 by motorcycle-riding killers on Bombom Bridge, sitio Feeder Road, Barangay Bacolod, Milagros town.

A news report quoted Inspector Anselmo Prima of the Milagros police as saying the likely motive for the murder was either local politics or personal grudges.

But the same story quoted Remate managing editor Lydia Bueno as saying the killing was likely triggered by Briones’ hard-hitting reports on sensitive topics like illegal fishing, illegal gambling and the drug trade. Briones had been receiving death threats before he was killed.

In the meantime, Leonardo del Rosario, aka Pandoy, a suspect in the Briones murder was himself killed along with his father and another companion when police tried to arrest them. Del Rosario allegedly led a crime gang in Masbate.

Journalists in Masbate described their colleague’s fate as an extrajudicial killing. However, the Briones family has yet to file charges against the suspects.

On the other hand, Briones’ daughter* says her father might have survived his injuries if responding police had immediately taken him to a hospital. The listed cause of death were not the gunshots but massive blood loss.

She claims her father was taken around the town plaza and allegedly shown to townsfolk by the police before he was brought to the hospital.


  1. LARRY QUE: Catanduanes newspaper publisher slain

Larry Que, publisher and columnist of the community paper Catanduanes News Now, was the second journalist killed under the Duterte administration. Que was assassinated by motorcycle-riding killers as he was entering his office in Virac around 9:30 a.m. on December 19, 2016.

Shortly before he died, Que had written a column accusing local officials of negligence following the discovery of a major drug manufacturing facility in the province.

On May 2, 2017, Que’s partner Edralyn Pangilinan filed a murder complaint with the Department of Justice in Manila against Catanduanes Governor Joseph Cua, police officer Vincent Tacorda, Cua’s aide Prince Lim Subion and several “John Does.”

Tacorda has reportedly admitted having been ordered, alleged by Cua as relayed by Subion, to kill Que in the guise of the police’s anti-drug “Operation Tokhang.” Subion had reportedly been sending death threats to Que before his murder.

A colleague and close friend of Que, Marlon Suplig, said aside from the murder charge, Tacorda is also facing robbery and extortion charges because he allegedly asked the slain publisher’s family for P10 million in exchange for evidence in the case.

Despite the charges, Tacorda remained in active service a year after the killing.

A year since the complaint against Cua and the other suspects was filed, Que’s family is still waiting for the Department of Justice’s resolution.


  1. LEODORO DIAZ: Sultan Kudarat native first Mindanao journalist slain since martial law 

On August 7, 2017, Leodoro Diaz, 60, of President Quirino town in Sultan Kudarat province became the first Mindanao journalist to be murdered since President Rodrigo Duterte declared the southern island under martial law on May 23, 2017.

The reporter of RMN’s Cotabato City station dxMY and columnist of the tabloid Sapol, Diaz was heading to Tacurong City from his home when ambushed by motorcycle-riding gunmen.

Before this, he had been receiving death threats and had been harassed by armed men at his home in Barangay Katiku, President Quirino.

Diaz’s daughter* believes he was killed because of his hard-hitting columns on corruption, illegal gambling and drugs in his hometown even if, as she pointed out, he seldom, if ever, identified the subjects of his criticism.

Before his death, Diaz had reportedly informed colleagues he was writing about illegal drugs.

His daughter dismisses observations he might have been killed because he planned to enter politics. She said that was just a “joke.”

Murder charges have since been filed against a suspect, “Toto” Tamano, who remains at large.


  1. MARLON MUYCO: Blocktime radio anchor shot dead in Kidapawan City

Marlon Muyco, who hosted a blocktime program over dxND Radyo Bida in Kidapawan City, Cotabato province, was shot dead by motorcycle-riding killers in Barangay La Suerte, M’lang town the afternoon of February 2, 2017.

His daughter, who was with him, was wounded in the attack.

Police investigators said the killers had been tailing the host of the program “Abyan sa Kalambuan sa Banwa Sang M’lang (Your Friend in the Development of M’lang Town)” and struck when the victims reached a secluded area.

Authorities identified one of the suspects as Boyet Patubo, who they described as a “gun-for-hire.” They said Patubo was seen fleeing toward Antipas town where his brother is a barangay chairman.

Police have yet to ascertain the motive for Muyco’s murder.


  1. RUDY ALICAWAY: Broadcaster shot dead in Zamboanga del Sur

On August 6, 2017, Rudy Alicaway, 47, was on his way home after hosting his weekly community affairs program “Tigmo-tigmo” over radio station dxPB in Sitio Lopez, Barangay Culo, Molave town in Zamboanga del Sur, when motorcycle-riding gunmen shot him dead.

Station manager Rocel Navarro said Alicaway never tackled controversial issues.

Aside from hosting his program, Alicaway was a councilor of Barangay Miligan in Molave.

The motive for his murder remains undetermined to date.


  1. EDMUND SESTOSO: Dumaguete broadcaster declared dead after gun attack

Broadcaster Edmund Sestoso, former chairman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines chapter in Dumaguete City, was shot by motorcycle-riding gunmen late in the morning of April 30, 2018 and died the afternoon of the next day, May 1.

Sestoso was on his way home to Barangay Daro after hosting his daily program “Tug-anan” over dyGB 91.7 FM when he was attacked.

Hit five times, Sestoso was rushed to the Siliman University Medical Center where he underwent surgery.

A friend* who had been assisting the journalist’s family said Sestoso had texted a relative hours before the incident saying someone was out to kill him.

Sestoso’s wife Lourdes also told his colleagues he had been receiving death threats but had refused to discuss these with her.

Authorities have yet to determine the motive behind Sestoso’s murder.


  1. APOLINARIO SUAN JR.: Surigao broadcaster first killed under Duterte administration

Just two weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, newly-elected Surigao provincial board member and broadcaster Apolinario Suan Jr. became the first journalist to be murdered under the new administration.

Suan, a radio anchor at Real FM station in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur, was on his way home from the radio station when attacked by men aboard a van along the national highway in Sitio Tandawan, Barangay San Vicente, Bislig City on July 14, 2016 at around 2 in the afternoon.

He was critically wounded during the attack, while his brother and escort, Dodong Suan, died on the spot. The broadcaster’s two other escorts were injured.

Suan slipped into a coma and died two weeks later on July 28.

In a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Bislig City police director Supt. Rainier Diaz said Suan’s killing may be connected to his work as a broadcaster.

A friend* of Suan told the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines the broadcaster threw hard-hitting commentaries against Bislig City Mayor Librado Navarro even before he was elected as board member of the province. Suan had also received death threats before he was killed, the source said. Suan’s friend has been withheld for security reasons.

NUJP has a national community of members with working chapters in the provinces who provide NUJP’s Safety Office information from the ground on journalist killings and safety issues. NUJP maintains case files on killings and other cases, based on this information from this network.