A radio journalist in the Philippines was shot dead May 8, the fourth journalist to be killed this year in a country which is ranked among the world’s worst in terms of press freedom by international rights monitors.
Radio anchorman, Nestor Libaton, 45, was travelling by motorbike with reporter, Eldon Cruz when the attack took place in the city of Mati, the capital of Davao Oriental province some 1,000km south of Manila.
Cruz, who was driving the vehicle, was unharmed in the incident.
Libaton hosted three shows on the dxHM station, a part of the Catholic Media Network, where he had worked for some 20 years.
Libaton’s colleague at dxHM, Nella Duallo told the country’s Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility that the journalists had been on their way home from interviewing village officials about an ongoing festival when they heard gunshots and saw the attackers approaching.
While Cruz wanted to flee the scene, Libaton confronted the gunman and was shot repeatedly in the back, according to reports.
The motive for the killing is still unknown and police officials have stated that it is too early to ascertain whether the incident was related to Libaton’s work. A senior representative of the Davao Oriental Police suggested that the religious nature of the station’s broadcasting reduces the likelihood of the killing being work-related.
Chairman of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, Nestor Burgos told AFP that Libaton’s colleagues were unaware of any potential threats or motives for the attack, but said that it could have been linked to his work.
Calls for justice intensify
Libaton’s murder was the second attack of its type to take place within recent weeks.
On April 24, two gunmen shot dead Michael Jayson Calanasan, 36, a reporter for the local Laguna Courier newspaper. Like Libaton, he was riding a motorbike at the time of attack, and his passenger was also left unhurt, according to news reports.
A notoriously dangerous place for members of the media, the Philippines ranked third on the 2012 Impunity Index by the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) which highlights countries where journalists are regularly murdered and their killers escape punishment.
At least 151 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since the restoration of democracy in 1986, and rights organisations have blamed a “culture of impunity” for the situation in the country, which has seen only ten people convicted for involvement in attacks over the 36 year period.
In the wake of these latest killings, the CPJ has demanded that the government find those responsible for both attacks and bring them to justice.
The Catholic Church has also called on authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, reportedly told church-run Radio Veritas: “We are saddened because we know how important communication is.”
Responding to calls to improve the situation on World Press Freedom Day earlier this month the Philippine government restated its intention to offer journalists protection.
Edwin Lacierda, a spokesman for President Beningo Aquino, also reiterated the administration’s commitment to supporting a free press, saying: “With respect to safety, I can assure you that we will not tolerate extra-legal killings, especially of journalists.”
“Every time we hear an attempt on media personnel, we immediately inform the Philippine National Police. That is something that we are very strong about," he added.
Investigations into both attacks are ongoing according to the police.