Philippine Army soldiers shot and killed Ronnie Villamor, a contributor to the local independent Dos Kantos Balita weekly tabloid, on November 14, 2020, outside a military checkpoint in Milagros, a town in Masbate province in the central Philippines, while he was on his way to cover a disputed land survey, according to press reports.
The troops, led by Second Lieutenant Maydim Jomadil, were investigating reports of armed men in the area, according to local broadcaster ABS-CBN. Major Aldrin Rosales, the local police chief, alleged that the troops ordered Villamor to stop his motorcycle, and opened fire when the journalist drew a firearm, according to that report.
A November 14 Masbate Police Provincial Office report on the incident written by Police Major Aldrin Rosales and reviewed by CPJ said that troops recovered a .45-caliber Springfield Armory pistol with six bullets and an extra fully loaded magazine from Villamor’s body.
The police report also said troops seized a bag containing several identification cards and a Samsung mobile phone from his body that were handed over to police as evidence.
In a statement posted to Facebook, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines denied that version of events, saying that soldiers stopped Villamor and four surveyors he was accompanying despite the group having coordinated with police to be in the area.
When the five decided to call local police to assist them in passing through the army checkpoint, the soldiers opened fire and killed Villamor, the statement said.
Nonoy Espina, the NUJP’s chairperson, told CPJ by email that, according to sources in Masbate, Villanor was covering a survey of disputed land at the time of his shooting.
Local English-language outlet Butalat reported that the army and police claimed Villamor was a member of the New People’s Army, an anti-government armed insurgent group active in the region.
Villamor covered land disputes and other political issues for Dos Kantos Balita, according to the NUJP.
Perry Solis, the chief of staff of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, a government body tasked with resolving journalist killings, told CPJ by email that there was “good reason to believe that [Villamor] is not a freelance journalist” and that he “threatened to shoot soldiers from the Philippine Army” at the time of his killing.
Dos Kantos Balita covers issues including alleged illegal logging, drug trafficking, and illegal fishing in the region, according to a CPJ review of the publication’s Facebook page.
The Philippine Army did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on the circumstances surrounding Villamor’s killing.