Filipino journalists

Demand for justice continues a year after Percy Lapid’s murder

Jairo Bolledo

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Demand for justice continues a year after Percy Lapid’s murder

CALL FOR JUSTICE. Members of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Freedom for Media Freedom for All Network, and College Editors Guild of the Philippines, along with press freedom and human rights advocates, hold a rally at the Department of Justice to call for justice for slain radio broadcaster Percival Mabasa aka Percy Lapid, on October 3, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

'Upholding press freedom, and protecting our journalists starts with the promotion of the rule of law,' Senator Risa Hontiveros says during a forum held to commemorate Lapid's killing

MANILA, Philippines – Exactly a year after the killing of hard-hitting broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa on Tuesday, October 3, various groups – including current and former government officials –called for justice for the slain journalist.

During a forum organized by Czech embassy in Manila and the Center for People’s Media, along with other groups, opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said that in order to stop the killings of journalists, culprits must be probed and held accountable.

“Upholding press freedom, and protecting our journalists starts with the promotion of the rule of law. To dismantle the culture of impunity regarding media killings, we must identify, investigate and prosecute those behind these heinous acts,” Hontiveros said during the forum held at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication on Tuesday, October 3.

Hontiveros added: “The Philippines has a sorry track record when it comes to achieving justice for media killings. According to a report in 2022 by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), of the 176 media workers killed in the Philippines since 1986, only 19 have resulted in convictions.”

On October 3, 2022, Lapid, a staunch critic of former president Rodrigo Duterte and incumbent president Ferdinand Marcos Jr., was shot dead in Las Piñas City. Later on, the alleged gunman, Joel Escorial, surrendered and implicated various individuals, including persons deprived of liberty.

Former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag was tagged in the killing as an alleged mastermind. However, despite a pending charge and warrant against the former BuCor official, he and his co-accused, former BuCor official Ricardo Zulueta, have yet to be arrested by the authorities.

Meanwhile, Escorial asked the court for a lower penalty via a plea bargain deal. Prior to that, three New Bilibid Prison gang leaders were sentenced to imprisonment of two up to eight years after they pleaded guilty as accessories to the Lapid’s killing.

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Hontiveros noted Bantag’s at-large status in her speech: “Ka Percy’s case offers a unique opportunity to turn things around and set a model for obtaining justice in media killings…I remain hopeful that Bantag and the other accused individuals on the run will be brought before the courts to face the charges against them. I believe that, sooner rather than later, justice for Ka Percy’s death will be achieved,” the senator said.

Rappler executive editor and veteran journalist Glenda Gloria, who served as one of the panelists during the Tuesday forum, laid down specific actions needed to address the rising number of killings of journalists.

“Institutional support for investigations into media killings…What we need is for media organizations, community support groups, lawyers, and international institutions to come together and support and sustain these investigations – with rigor and commitment shown for example by the mother of Jonas Burgos,” Gloria said. “A dedicated support networking aiding the family as they pursue a case.”

The Rappler executive editor said that the national police’s human rights desks can be revived to include media protection. She also said that journalists’ digital security should be prioritized to track online threats, adding that media owners should be accountable and responsible for their own staff.

Former senator Kiko Pangilinan was also present during the forum. In his address, Pangilinan mentioned how Lapid supported his tandem with former vice president Leni Robredo during their presidential and vice presidential runs. The former senator also mentioned that Lapid even helped him prepare for his debates at the height of the campaign.

Clamor from media

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), a group dedicated to ensure media safety and protection, held a rally outside the Department of Justice to call for justice for Lapid’s killing.

The Freedom for Media Freedom for All (FMFA), a coalition of press freedom advocates including the NUJP, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Mindanews, and the Philippine Press Institute, also called for swift justice for the journalist’s slay.

“FMFA calls for urgent attention to the court hearings, including making sure that the accused are represented by their lawyers so that court proceedings are not delayed by their absences,” the group said in a statement.

The group also noted that Lapid’s killing showed how dangerous the Philippines is for hard-hitting and critical journalists.

“Mabasa’s murder laid bare how dangerous the Philippines has become for media workers, particularly for hard-hitting radio commentators. The high-profile investigation that followed also revealed the sordid underbelly of the Philippine correctional system,” the FMFA said. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.