Death toll mounts for journalists in Philippines

Another Philippine journalist was killed in a drive-by shooting on Wednesday, bringing to at least six the total slain in the country this year. In none of the cases have police determined whether they were killed because of their work as journalists or for other reasons. The investigations into the cases appear to have gone nowhere and get only brief media attention.

In the most recent case, Vergel Bico, 41, an editor for the weekly newspaper Kalahi, who had written about illegal gambling, was shot twice in the head while riding his motorcycle in Calapan City in Mindoro Oriental province, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) south of Manila, according to The Associated Press.

Police Chief D’Artagnan Katalbas told AP the gunman fled on a motorcycle driven by another man. No motive has been established, but Katalbas said investigators were “not discounting” that the killing was related to Bico’s work as a journalist.

The mounting death toll for journalists in the Philippines reflects the inability of the government to maintain law and order, and journalism has become a high-risk occupation under President Benigno Aquino’s administration. He has not been able to deliver on a promise to bring the killers of journalists to justice.

Despite Aquino’s vow both before and after his election in June 2010 to address the murder of journalists, the police and court system remain unable to successfully pursue investigations that result in trials and convictions. The country ranks third-worst worldwide, after Iraq and Somalia, on CPJ’s 2013 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered regularly and the killers go free. CPJ continues to chronicle the deaths of journalists in the Philippines, but with poor investigative and prosecutorial work there, we have not been able to firmly establish the motives behind the deaths.

CPJ has documented the following cases of Philippine journalists killed in 2013:

  • On August 29, 2013, two unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle shot DxLS Love Radio commentator Fernando Solijon while he was walking to his car after having dinner with a friend at around 10:30 p.m. in Bur-un village of Iligan City, in Lanao del Norte province of Northern Mindanao region, according to news reports. The news accounts said the assailants shot him several times at close range in the head, abdomen, and shoulder.
  • On August 1, Mario Sy, 53, a freelance photographer, was shot in his home in southern General Santos City. He was the third journalist to be killed in the Philippines in less than a week. An unidentified gunman entered Sy’s home and shot him twice in front of his wife and daughter, according to news reports.
  • On July 30, two assailants on motorcycles shot Richard Kho and Bonifacio Loreto in front of a convenience store on around 11 p.m. in the Quezon City neighborhood of Manila, according to news reports. Authorities said the journalists died from multiple gunshot wounds and that police recovered several .45 caliber and 9-millimeter shells from the crime scene, the reports said. Both reporters were columnists for the Aksyon Ngayon (Action Now), a weekly tabloid newspaper that had published only one issue a few weeks before the killings. The publication intended to focus on local community issues, including reporting on corruption.
  • On April 22, Mario Vendiola Baylosis, 33, was killed by two unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle in the town of Kabasalan in the southern province of Zamboanga Sibugay as he was heading home from work on a motorcycle. Baylosis, who was known on his radio show as Kuya Mar, worked as an announcer for Radyo Natin, which covers news and entertainment. He also worked as a news correspondent for DXNC-Radyo Suhnan in the municipality of Siay.

A complete list of journalists killed in the Philippines can be found here. CPJ’s comprehensive coverage of the country is available here.