PHILIPPINES: ANOTHER MEDIA VOICE IS SNUFFED OUT

ALEXANDER KYDONIEFS WRITES – Philippine police officials are scrambling to find the killers of Percival Mabasa, late host of the “Lapid Fire” program on the Philippine DWBL 1242 radio station.

On October 4th, at 8:30pm, motor-cycle-riding gunmen killed longstanding Filipino journalist and radio personality Percival Mabasa, known to audiences as ‘Percy Lapid.’ “[He] was only doing his job as a commentator,” grieved Roy Mabasa, journalist and brother to the broadcaster.

Police reports claim Percival Mabasa, 63, was driving in Las Piñas, an urban area in metro Manila, when two men on a motorcycle fired on his vehicle. Local broadcast reports showed footage of the scene, with bullet holes and smashed glass in the window of Percy’s car adjacent to the driver’s seat, and with blood around the crime scene.

Mabasa, a journalist who started his career in early 1980, has since become well-known for his frank radio personality. He is known to criticize Philippine officials for corruption allegations and transgressions of civil rights as well as freedom of speech. These comments were especially prevalent during the Rodrigo Duterte administration, when journalists were “threatened and attacked for challenging the administration’s discrimination and promotion of disinformation,” says Rachel Obordo, Filipino Nobel Peace Prize winner.

From 2019 until the end of Duterte’s authoritarian regime-he was also known as “the Punisher”- he conducted a merciless ‘war on drugs’ and campaigned against press freedom in 2022. Mabasa famously confronted him in various YouTube playlists, such as his “Throwback Commentaries” series. At the time of his death Percy’s YouTube Channel, ‘Lapid Fire,’ had 224,000 subscribers, while his Facebook page, ‘Percy Lapid Fire,’ had 68,000 followers.

“If he wanted to call someone corrupt, he would do that. If he wanted to say someone was breaking the law, he would do that,” claims Jonathan de Santos, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUPJ), in an interview with the Washington Post.

The subsequent election of Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos to the presidency has since created high hopes for the Philippines, with Marcos’ administration winning “58 percent of the vote, the only presidential majority in post-1987 Philippine electoral history,” and with promises “to heal the divides of a deeply polarized Philippines,” explain Japhet Quitzon and Willian Reinsch, who are Scholl Chairs at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS).

Unfortunately, Mabasa’s death has cast doubt on this healing promise, his name a disheartening addition to the 196 journalists who have been killed since the 1986 democratic ousting of dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos – father of Bongbong Marcos.

Considered “one of the deadliest countries [in which] to be a journalist,” according to Phil Robertson, Dept. Director of Asia’s Human Rights Watch division, many Philippine journalists similarly express their elevated fears of safety. Metro Manila had previously been considered a safe spot, compared to outlying, less populous provinces. “The thinking was, if you were in the capital, if you were known, that would somehow provide you with protection,” Mike Navallo, a journalist from ABS-CBN media explains.

Ongoing investigations headed by Roy Mabasa have since identified one of the perpetrators of the crime: Joel Escorial, a self-confessed gunman in the ambush/murder of Percy. Since his imprisonment, Escorial has revealed the names of his  alleged accomplices: Edmon Adao Dimaculangan and Israel Adao Dimaculangan, who remain at large, despite a 6.5 million pesos bounty for information on their whereabouts.

The Philippines has a history of troubled, crime-riddled investigations due to the accessibility of guns as well as systemic degrees of corruption in law enforcement services. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen this movie before,” Robertson wistfully explains, adding that “very little will happen going forward, and another journalist is added to the toll.”

Will there be more? Or will the son of a former strongman truly democratize the country?

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