PHILIPPINES: Just Another Statistic

MARY GRACE COSTA WRITES – Melinda “Mei” Magsino-Lubis, 40, a former correspondent to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, was shot and killed in broad daylight in front of her home in Batangas Monday, April 13. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) of the Philippines reports that the murderer shot Magsino-Lubis in the head with a caliber 45 pistol before making his escape with an accomplice on a motorcycle.

Magsino-Lubis’ murder has many media workers in the Philippines and around the world crying foul play, believing that the crime is directly linked to the writer’s controversial career. Although she no longer wrote for the Inquirier, her partner says she continued to update her social media profiles with hard-hitting stories. The former journalist was no stranger to being targeted by politicians and hitmen alike.

Magsino-Lubis’ work mainly focused on the topic of illegal gambling and corruption among Batangas officials. In 2005, then Batangas governor, Armando Sanchez, brought a case against Magsino-Lubis for oral defamation. As a result, Magsino-Lubis was chastised by 15 Batangas officials for disrespecting the governor. Not long after, the writer was forced into hiding after learning that two fugitives had been released from prison to kill her.

Indeed, just one day before she was shot, Magsino-Lubis updated her Facebook profile with a post which claimed that several accounts from the same IP address were harassing her. After tracking the IP address down, Magsino-Lubis discovered that the accounts belonged to a Batangas counselor.

The NBI, however, was initially hesitant to declare Magsino-Lubis’ murder work-related, citing a love triangle and a debt she couldn’t collect as other possible leads. However, one might also wonder if this hesitance stems from an effort to protect Batangas officials from further accusations of corruption. The mayor of Batangas, Eduardo Dimacuha, hastily released a statement claiming no involvement in the crime. The counselor referred to in Magsino-Lubis’ Facebook post was also quick to deny the harrassment claims.

The killing of journalists in the Philippines has been a hot topic as of late. Just two weeks ago, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. mirrored the NBI’s hesitance by announcing the Palace’s reluctance to call the killing of media workers a war crime in response to Gary Pruitt’s suggestion at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club. Nevertheless, Malacañang Palace has expressed nothing but support for Magsino-Lubis, her family, and the investigative team spearheading the manhunt for her murderer.

If Magsino-Lubis’ murder is found to be connected with her work, the National Union of Journalists reports she will be the 26th journalist killed during Aquino’s administration, a heartbreaking end for the writer who once expressed her desire to escape the fate of many Filipino media crusaders like herself.

“The list of murdered journalists here is too long. I have to survive,” she told the American Journalism Review in 2005. “I don’t want to become another statistic.”

Bringing justice to slain members of the press has been a work-in-progress for Philippine president, Benigno Aquino III. The investigation and search for Magsino-Lubis’ murderer continues in the Philippines, and only time will tell if justice will be served or if she will, indeed, join the statistics of journalists who dared to tell the truth and, as a result, paid the price.

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