May 30, 2016 was a bad day for journalists in both the U.S. and in the Philippines.
Here in the U.S., Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump attacked journalists during a press conference held at the Trump Tower in New York City, calling them “unbelievably dishonest.” He even called a reporter of ABC a sleaze.
In the Philippines, incoming President Rodrigo Duterte, who is invariably called by the international press as the Donald Trump of the Philippines, said that corrupt journalists are not exempted from assassination.
In a press conference held in Davao City, Duterte said, “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a b–h.” He made the remark after a reporter asked him a question about the unabated media killings.
“Most of those killed, to be frank, have done something. You won’t be killed if you don’t do anything wrong,” Duterte said. “The Constitution can no longer help you if you disrespect a person.”
In his latest (June 3) press conference, Duterte stepped up his attack against journalists. He classified journalists into three kinds. These are the crusaders, the publicists and PROs, and the extortionists. Saying he has known journalists since his father was governor of Davao Province in 1967, the incoming president remarked that journalists belonging to the third kind are the ones targeted for assassination because they are corrupt and greedy.
When told that media people may boycott his press conferences, Duterte said he does not care and challenged them to make good their threat. He said he will course his pronouncements through PTV 4, which is a government television station.
During the same press conference, he also attacked members of the clergy, calling them hypocrites. He singled out retired Dagupan Bishop Oscar Cruz, calling him “idiotic.”
Turning back his ire on media people, he said, “Huwag tayong magbulahan (Let’s not fool each other).” His statement was interspersed with expletives and cuss words.
Media groups in the Philippines like National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) reacted sharply to the statement of the incoming President who will assume office on June 30, 2016. NUJP said there is no justi fication whatsoever for the murder of journalists.
The widow of Alex Balcoba, 56, columnist of tabloid People’s Brigada, who was shot dead in Manila by two men last May 28, reacted emotionally to Duterte’s remark when interviewed by reporters beside the coffin of his husband. She said Alex is not corrupt, adding that if he was corrupt they would not be living in a modest house.
The same sentiment was aired by the widow of a broadcast journalist who was killed a few years ago in Puerto Princesa City allegedly due to his campaign against destructive mining activities in Palawan.
National Press Club of the Philippines Paul Gutierrez said the attack on Balcoba brought to more than 30 the number of journalists killed in the Philippines since 2010. No suspects in the killings have been charged in court.
“The culture of impunity that is behind these attacks is yet to be addressed by the authorities despite their repeated boasts and promises,” Gutierrez said.
The failure to put the killers behind bars has emboldened enemies of press freedom to shoot media people.
With the culture of impunity in place, it is already a dangerous situation. But the remark of incoming President Duterte may have further worsened the situation. His statement may be interpreted by people who harbor grudges against media people for whatever reason as a signal for an open season for the killing of journalists.
Also, the statement seems to be an indication that Duterte is inclined to throw due process out of the window. This is dangerous because you are acting as prosecutor and judge at the same time. Or you are acting as if you are God and you decide who is to live or who is to die.
Duterte was likewise being criticized for whistling at a pretty lady reporter during the press conference. This was seen as Duterte’s disrespect of women. His spokesman, Atty. Salvador Panelo, explained later that the whistling was a gesture of admiration for the reporter. It could be, but in a civil society, that is a “no-no.”
The questionable actions by the incoming Chief Executive are, to say the least, unbecoming of the incoming head of a nation. In the past, he was known as a friend of media.
Trump, on the other hand, seemed to have a natural dislike of media people. Early in the primary campaign, Trump ordered the ejectment of a Latino reporter during a press conference. He also made a nasty comment against Megyn Kelly of Fox News. And every now and then, he has been taking potshots at journalists simply because he does not like the news stories they write about him.
The worst attack he made against the press took place during that recent press conference in New York City.
Such attacks by Duterte and Trump, though, will not stop journalists from doing their job.