Duterte backtracks on apparent media threat

President Benigno Aquino and then Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in 2013. Duterte’s outbursts are best not taken too seriously. Source: Wikimedia

After saying that journalists were “not exempted from assassination”, Philippines President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has performed another flip-flop by saying he will protect the media employees and pursue their killers.

The former lawyer was elected president on May 9, partly because he promised mass executions of criminals. He takes office at the end of this month.

Since the fall of the dictatorial Marcos regime in 1986, 175 journalists have been killed in the archipelago. Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 138 among 180 nations in this year’s World Press Freedom Index.

Meanwhile, the markets do not seem to be overly concerned, as the peso has gone through a six-day rally with its 2.3-per-cent gain in a month the best in Asia.

Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist at BDO Unibank in Manila, said: “Companies took advantage of the stronger peso arising from foreign portfolio flows to the stock market and used it as an opportunity to buy dollars.”

Duterte sought to clarify his remarks about the media.

“I do not condone nor tolerate killing of journalists, regardless of the motive of the killers, or the reason for their killing. I never said that killing journalists is justified because they are involved in corruption,” Duterte said in a statement.

“My duty as president is to uphold and enforce the law and I will pursue and prosecute these killers to the hilt.”

Last week, Duterte, 71, said the media was “not exempted from assassination if you are a son of a bitch”. Reporters Without Borders called for a media boycott and demanded legal action against him.

It was claimed that the seven-term mayor of Davao was quoted out of context, but Duterte refused to apologise, saying some journalists were “vultures”.

“What I said is that you don’t have to be a journalist to be the subject of an assassination,” he explained.

“There are many cases where journalists are killed by reason of their advocacy, but there are those who are killed because they take sides and accept bribes and renege on their commitments. The noble vocation of journalism does not apply to extortionists and criminals.”

The Centre for International Law, a lobby group of lawyers and journalists, welcomed Duterte’s statement.

“We hope that we will hear from him not just a clear policy directive against the culture of impunity, but concrete steps to cripple and finally eradicate it,” said Romel Regalado Bagares of the centre.