Connect to share and comment

Welcome to The Philippines, the "most murderous country in the world" for journalists

Faced with rising violence, more Filipino journalists are arming themselves.

A journalist lights a candle during the Press Freedom Day celebration in May 2008 for the dozens of his colleagues assassinated over the years. In the background is a list of those who were murdered. (Photo courtesy of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines)

MANILA — The assassins made sure Ernesto Rollin was dead.

The first volley of gunfire sent him reeling to the ground, bloodied. His companion, a woman identified in reports as Ligaya, had walked ahead while Rollin parked his motorcycle. She was startled by the gunshots. She turned around and ran toward Rollin, now slumped on the pavement. But one of the gunmen stopped Ligaya, pointed his gun at the fallen journalist and fired one more bullet into the back of his neck.

Rollin’s assassination is a scene that is being replayed throughout the Philippines with alarming frequency, further cementing the country’s reputation as “the most murderous” country in the world for journalists, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Rollin, 40, was the first Filipino journalist murdered this year. Seven were killed in 2008. And it looks like the violence is not going to stop soon.

Less than a week after Rollin’s murder, another journalist, Ronaldo Doong, was attacked in Digos City, in the southern Philippines. Luckily for Doong, the gunman’s weapon jammed, and he and a companion managed to escape death.

On Mar. 5, Nilo Labares, another radio journalist in Cagayan de Oro City, also in the southern Philippines, was ambushed by gunmen. The motive for the attack was unclear. Labares is known for his hard-hitting on-air commentary that often poked fun at politicians and public figures.

These attacks, and the ones before them — 99 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines since 1986, the year the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was notorious for human rights abuses and for jailing journalists, was deposed — have unnerved Filipino journalists for years.

Most of the victims are in the provinces where journalists, although relatively free to air or publish whatever they want, have to contend with warlords, politicians and criminal syndicates. In these communities, particularly where governance is weak, people turn to journalists, oftentimes radio commentators, who can be shrill and rambunctious in their commentary and reports.

Tonette Orejas, a journalist in the province of Pampanga, knows only too well the trouble a journalist can get into. For three years, she carried two weapons in her purse — a .40-caliber Glock and a .22-caliber pistol — after she received death threats for an investigative story she wrote on a Filipino politician for Newsbreak, a news magazine.