MANILA, Philippines – “The state must protect the media,” said Rodrigo Duterte in a statement sent by his camp on Thursday, March 31.
The press release was sent in response to the National Press Club's challenge to presidential candidates to reveal their stand on the many unsolved media killings in the country. (READ: PH 4th worst country in unsolved media murders)
But the day before, Duterte joked to the media about killing "talkative" people even without due process.
Asked whether he would allow killings without due process if elected president, Duterte said, "Puwede, puwede...Yung mga madaldal ang bunganga, puwede (Possible, possible...For those who are talkative, it's possible)."
During March 30 sortie in Quezon: Duterte jokes about killing people without due process. #PHVote pic.twitter.com/LTEgYyeC6B — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) March 30, 2016
In the video, a campaign team member can be heard assuring the media, "Biro lang yun ha, biro lang (That was a joke, just a joke)."
Duterte is both adored and vilified for his sense of humor. He is fond of exaggerating, claiming to be willing to kill 50,000 criminals to serve as food for fish in Manila Bay.
In front of huge crowds, he has threatened to kill them if they don’t vote for him, a declaration met with laughter, even applause.
It’s this nonchalant attitude of Duterte’s, especially when it comes to pronouncements about killing, that have angered human rights groups both in the Philippines and abroad.
Unable to prove conclusively that Duterte ordered death squads to execute petty criminals, New York-based Human Rights Watch asserted that Duterte’s language shows, at the very least, a tolerance for such an approach to fighting crime.
In campaign speeches, however, Duterte gets more serious when addressing the issue of extrajudicial killing.
He has said he has never ordered anyone killed except if the criminal resisted arrest or posed a threat to the lives of policemen.
Duterte also emphasizes in his speeches that there will be “no abuses” by the police or military when he cracks down on crime and drugs – something he aims to do within 3 to 6 months after being elected.
'Duterte defends media rights'
But Duterte's camp says Duterte's strong stance against crime protects journalists.
Peter Laviña, Duterte's spokesman, also said Duterte has never filed a libel case againt a journalist and has never questioned a member of the media for writing anything critical of his administration.
Duterte took a stand for Cagayan de Oro journalists when they demanded equal access to the first presidential debate held in their city.
The Mindanaoan presidential bet also defended media rights when former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo placed the country under a state of emergency in 2006 following a coup attempt. The state of emergency revoked all licenses and permits to hold demonstrations.
Duterte, defying the state of emergency, allowed journalists to stage a protest in Davao City on March 3, 2006. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.