A police officer is seen in Zamboanga, Philippines, on December 6, 2021. Journalist Jesus “Jess” Malabanan was recently killed in Calbayog City. (AP Photo)

Jesus Malabanan, reporter who covered Duterte drug war, killed in the Philippines

Bangkok, December 9, 2021 – Philippine authorities should conduct a rapid and thorough investigation into the killing of journalist Jesus “Jess” Malabanan and swiftly bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At about 6 p.m. yesterday, unidentified assailants on a motorcycle shot Malabanan in the head while he was watching television at his family’s store in Calbayog City, Samar province, according to news reports. The journalist was declared dead on arrival at the city’s St. Camillus Hospital, those reports said.

Malabanan, a correspondent with the local Manila Standard, Manila Times, and Bandera news outlets, was also a long-time stringer for the Reuters news agency, according to Rappler, which quoted one of his Reuters colleagues saying he contributed reporting to the agency’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series on President Rodrigo Duterte’s lethal drug war in 2018.

That colleague also said that Malabanan had been threatened over his work, but did not specify the nature of the threats.

The Presidential Task Force on Media Security, a state agency comprised of Philippine police and tasked with solving media murders, said in a statement that the suspects had fled north after the killing and police were conducting a “hot pursuit operation.”

“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,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “This wanton killing will inevitably have a chilling effect on reporters covering the drug war.”

In 2017, the task force issued police security measures to Malabanan at his request, according to the group’s statement, which did not specify why he had requested those measures or how long they were in place. The statement said the task force considers all forms of violence against media people to be work-related until an investigation proves otherwise.

Duterte has consistently denied any wrongdoing associated with his anti-drug campaign. In September, the International Criminal Court at The Hague suspended its investigation into suspected rights abuses committed in that campaign at the Philippine government’s request, according to reports.

CPJ emailed the Presidential Task Force on Media Security for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply. CPJ called the Calbayog City police for comment, but no one answered.

The Philippines ranked seventh on CPJ’s most recent Impunity Index, which spotlights countries worldwide where journalists are slain and the killers go free.