THE PHILIPPINES
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Rodrigo Duterte

‘Duterte believes in freedom of the press’: Philippine president will create special task force to protect journalists

Meanwhile, two Philippine police officers are to be charged with murder after being unmasked as motorcycle-riding hitmen

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 October, 2016, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 October, 2016, 10:46pm

Philippine President Rodrigo ­Duterte has issued an administrative order to create a presidential task force to protect journalists and investigate attacks on media, in what is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the press.

A special unit comprised of cabinet ministers, police, defence and justice officials would spend a month compiling an inventory of outstanding cases before pursuing investigations, said Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.

The Philippines enjoys one of the most liberal media environments in Asia, but violence against journalists is common and probes into killings are often inconclusive or hamstrung by lack of witness testimony.

“The reason why the president wanted this administrative order number 1 is because he cares for you, for us,” he told a regular briefing yesterday. “And he believes in freedom of the press.”

The reason why the president wanted this administrative order number 1 is because he cares for you, for us. And he believes in freedom of the press
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar

The order was signed by Duterte on Tuesday and includes the formation of an oversight panel to scrutinise the probes and gather input from non-governmental sources, such as human rights and journalist groups. It would also monitor media personnel in danger and provide them with protection, Andanar said.

Scores of journalists have been killed in the Philippines in the past three decades, with many of the victims radio broadcasters, often for coverage of provincial-level politics, which is notoriously dangerous.

Duterte has not always been so willing to defend the media. In June, he appeared to endorse killing corrupt journalists, singling out those took bribes, saying: “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”

Meanwhile, two Philippine police officers are to be charged with murder after being unmasked as motorcycle-riding hitmen who shot dead a local woman, authorities said Thursday. The policemen were wounded and arrested after a shoot-out with local police last weekend as they fled the scene of the crime in the central island of Mindoro, an official police report said.

Loaded handguns, a wig, and a face mask were among items recovered from Inspector Markson Almeranez and Senior Inspector Magdaleno Pimentel, it added.

Clad in civilian clothing, the two suspects allegedly shot dead a 51-year-old woman on October 9 outside her home in Gloria, a rural town on Mindoro about 170km south of Manila, according to the police report. Police gave chase, unaware of the suspects’ identity. The authorities said the motive of the killing was unknown.

Almeranez was at the time the police chief of Socorro, two towns north of Gloria, while Pimentel belonged to another Mindoro police unit, it added.

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The two suspects are under police guard at a local hospital for treatment of gunshot wounds and have been removed from their posts, the police statement said. They are to stand trial for murder as well as attempted murder for shooting at the pursuing police, the report said.

The shootings occurred as Philippine police wage a brutal crackdown against illegal drugs that has left more than 3,300 people dead since Duterte began his six-year term on June 30.

Some of those were drug suspects shot dead by police, while many others were gunned down by motorcycle-riding assassins, though there was no immediate indication the Mindoro case was linked to narcotics.

In a separate case, the bodies of three South Koreans with gunshot wounds to the head have been found in the Philippines, a South Korean foreign ministry official said on Thursday, the latest in a string of killings of Koreans in the southeast Asian nation.

The bodies of two men and a woman, all older than 40 and all with gunshot wounds to the head, were found on Tuesday in Bacolor outside the capital, Manila, the ministry official said by telephone. Chief of police at the town of Bacolor, Sonia Alvarez, said the deaths were unlikely to be related to drugs and instead looked like a crime of passion or indebtedness.