Filipino journalists

Percy Lapid’s life: Burning love for family, searing radio commentaries

Jairo Bolledo
Percy Lapid’s life: Burning love for family, searing radio commentaries
Percy Lapid made sure his brand of broadcasting was like rapid fire: powerful, relentless, unhesitating

MANILA, Philippines – In a dark world full of deception, every journalist strives to bring light into this world through facts. But Percy Lapid made sure his light was like rapid fire: powerful, relentless, unhesitating. 

Percy, whose real name is Percival Mabasa, was not afraid to be feisty and fiery. As long-time radio commentator, Percy kept his fire burning for broadcasting even until his untimely death. 

On October 3, Percy Lapid was gunned down by motorcycle-riding assailants in Las Piñas City. He is the second journalist to be killed under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. 

Authorities have yet to catch the culprit, but they announced on Friday, October 7, that they had already identified a person of interest in the killing of Lapid. Authorities put a P1.5-million bounty on his head.

He is scheduled to be laid to rest at 3 pm Sunday, October 9.

Percy behind the microphone

Percy, who was 63 at the time of his death, was a loving husband to his wife, a father to his six children, and lolo (grandfather) to three grandchildren.

He loved his family so much that he wanted his children and grandchildren to be close to him all the time. Even though some of his kids already have their own families, Percy would always call them to bond together.

Percy also enjoyed cooking for his family who judged him to be a good one. But this side of Percy remained largely unknown because he valued privacy. Roy Mabasa, a veteran journalist and Percy’s younger brother, said his brother wanted to protect his family.

Percy Lapid’s life: Burning love for family, searing radio commentaries

Napakasecretive ni Percy pagdating sa pamilya. Hindi siya nakikipag-usap tungkol sa mga anak niya or whatever. But sa loob ng tahanan, mahal na mahal ni Percy ‘yong kanyang mga anak,” Roy told Rappler.

(Percy was very secretive about his family. He never talked about his children or whatever. But inside their home, Percy loved his children a lot.)

Percy’s love for his family could be traced back to his father, who taught his children to love each other and fear God. Roy said they were taught to be just and treat people with dignity.

Roy and Percy grew up together as brothers, playmates, friends – and enemies on some occasions – like other normal siblings. Roy said he loved his brother so much that, when Percy ran away, he could not hold back his tears.

There was a time na naglayas ‘yan. Ako mismo, umiiyak, hinahanap ko siya. Pumunta kung saan-saang sulok ng Maynila…Eh siyempre gano’n namin kamahal ang isa’t isa,” Roy said. (There was a time when he ran away. I, myself, cried and looked for him. I went to different parts of Manila. That’s how much we loved each other.)

The last time Roy bonded with his brother was two weeks ago during his birthday celebration. Unfortunately, that was also the last time he saw Percy alive.

Birth of Lapid Fire

Percy’s father was a radio commentator who started before the late tyrant Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law.

He saw his father’s struggle as a journalist at the time of Marcos’ oppressive rule. His father’s principle weathered threats, and he became an inspiration for Percy to likewise venture into radio.

A few years before Marcos’ downfall, Percy and Roy entered the broadcast industry using their father’s block time slot in a small radio station near what was then the Manila International Airport. Their show was titled “Dos Por Dos.”

Even as a neophyte broadcaster, Percy was always quick-witted, feisty, and fearless. Roy said there was a time when their father called Percy to scold him for his commentaries.

Percy Lapid’s life: Burning love for family, searing radio commentaries

For 35 years, Percy served as radio broadcaster and hosted numerous programs. His last was his own program, “Lapid Fire,” which also aired in various social media platforms.

Roy said he could not see his brother outside of broadcasting.

I cannot imagine Percy working [with another] job description kasi ‘yan ‘yong kanyang passion. Parang ‘pag tinanggal mo ‘yong mikropono sa kanya, baka mamatay ‘yan eh. ‘Yan ‘yong apoy na laging nakasindi. Kailangan nasa istasyon siya ng radyo palagi,” he told Rappler.

(I cannot imagine Percy working [with another] job description because that’s his passion. It’s like, if you took away his microphone, he could die. That’s the fire that kept burning. He needed to be in a radio station always.)

Warnings and libel complaints

In his over three decades as a broadcaster, Percy received over a hundred warnings from his bosses, telling him that he could lose his job because of his fiery remarks. Roy said his brother would always receive a warning whenever Percy criticized someone in his radio program.

Percy also faced at least 36 libel complaints, according to his brother – but was never convicted for any of them. Just five months ago, all the remaining libel complaints against Percy were dismissed, Roy added.

But aside from warnings and legal actions, Percy also received death threats. Prior to Percy’s death, Roy said there was no indication of any threat against his brother.

Hindi ‘yan ‘yong klase na magdi-divulge ng kanyang sikreto o basta ikatatakot no’ng pamilya niya, hindi sasabihin ni Ka Percy ‘yon. Sigurado ako do’n kasi the last time nakakarinig ako from him directly na mga meron siyang death threats ay many years ago,” Roy said.

(He’s not the type who would divulge his secret or if there’s something that would cause his family to get scared, Percy would not say anything. I am sure about that because the last time I heard directly that he was receiving death threats was many years ago.)

Roy added that many of the threats his brother received were during the time of former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo.

Journalist killings

Percy was a staunch critic of former president Rodrigo Duterte and incumbent President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The late broadcaster uploaded videos that criticized government officials and discussed issues like red-tagging.

Based on the tally of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, at least 23 journalists were killed under Duterte. And Percy’s death only proved that the culture of killings under Duterte has carried over to the new administration

“Culture of killings cannot be changed over night. If anything, these killings under the new administration is a spill over from the previous administration’s. Former president Duterte used a language that seemed to justify killing, on top of his allergy towards human rights,” Jan Robert Go, assistant professor of political theory at the University of the Philippines Diliman, said.

Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch said that among the reasons why the harassment and killings of journalists persists is the lack of accountability: “It’s because accountability for previous murders and attacks against journalists have gone unpunished. This failure to hold perpetrators to account is what will ensure the continuation of impunity.”

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Both Go and Conde said Percy’s killing would definitely send a chilling effect to others who are also critical of the government. Go pointed out that this killing could also stir a sense of insecurity, while Conde said that Percy’s death strengthens the notion that in the Philippines, “it’s easy to muzzle criticism and dissent.”

Marcos Jr. had already reacted to Percy’s killing. But beyond this, it should be acknowledged that this incident poses a challenge to his administration. “It is now a challenge to the Marcos administration on how to respond to this, especially protecting journalists. It is a tough challenge for the President and his officials,” Go explained.

Aside from the Philippine president, the international community should also step in, according to Conde: “At the same time, the international community should scrutinize this. The UN Human Rights Council should step [in]… In other words, the international community needs to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.” – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering the police, crime, military, and security.