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Philippines: Duterte Makes Good on Threat to Kill Journalists?

Bill Weinberg

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The Philippines’ ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte has openly threatened to kill human rights activists and journalists who report on his draconian anti-drug crackdown.

Now, it looks like he may be starting to follow through. Press freedom groups in the Philippines are protesting what they say is the first murder of a journalist in the country since Duterte took office in June.

This week, Larry Que, publisher and chief correspondent for Catanduanes News Now, a local newspaper in the Luzon region (apparently with no website), was shot in the head as he was entering his office, in Virac township. The assailants escaped, and Que died from his injuries the next morning.

According to a statement from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines  (NUJP), Que’s murder came after he published a column on the recent raid of a shabu (crystal meth) laboratory that authorities claimed was the “biggest” so far discovered in the country. In his column, Que charged that police had turned a blind eye when the lab was first set up—part of the general speculation that Duterte’s crackdown really masks a struggle for control of the Philippines’ narco trade.

The NUJP and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) are demanding an investigaiton of the murder by the new “Presidential Task Force on Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of the Members of the Media,” established by Duterte in response to the outcry over his threats against the press. According to the NUJP, another local journalist, Jinky Tabor, who was a witness to the meth-lab raid and covered it for local radio, has also received death threats.

The Philippines remains one of the deadliest countries for journalists worldwide. According to IFJ figures, since 1990 more than 145 journalists have been killed in the Philippines.

Duterte is meanwhile continuing to hold out the threat of dropping Manila’s traditional alliance with the U.S. in favor of China or Russia in response to Washington’s criticisms of his atrocious rights record. 

AP reported last week that Duterte threatened to terminate the pact that allows U.S. troops to visit the Philippines in response to Washington’s decision to scrap a major aid package over human rights concerns. A U.S. aid agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, said last week that it had put off approval of a new development assistance package for the Philippines “subject to a further review of concerns around rule of law and civil liberties.”

Said a typically defiant Duterte: “I understand that we have been stricken out of the Millennium Challenge. Well, good, I welcome it. We can survive without American money. But you know, America, you might also be put to notice. Prepare to leave the Philippines, prepare for the eventual repeal or the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement. You know, tit for tat… if you can do this, so [can] we. It ain’t a one-way traffic.”

He added mockingly, “Bye-bye America.” 

While dissing the Americans as “sons of bitches” and “hypocrites,” Duterte praised China as having “the kindest soul of all” for offering aid with no human rights conditions. “So, what do I need America for?” 

He also broached turning to Russia for aid, saying, “They do not insult people, they do not interfere.”

Of course, Duterte has also indicated that Donald Trump approves of his bloody crackdown—so his relationship with Washington could be on the mend, once the new administration adopts the kind of forgiving attitude about rights violations now displayed by China and Russia.

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