Virgilio “Vir” Maganes died on the spot when he was shot six times by two men on a motor scooter outside his home in the town of Villasis at around 6:30 a.m. on 10 November.
Maganes worked for 11 years as a reporter and columnist for Northern Watch, a local paper that was forced to close in June as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but he had continued to host his shows on Radyo Pilipino (dWPR), in which he did not hesitate to tackle issues like illegal gambling, drugs or black sand mining trafficking.
The provincial police director said his investigators were considering various angles including a recent defamation complaint against Maganes over his coverage of cases of embezzlement of fund by leaders of a group called We Care Villasis.
According to the National Union of Journalists of The Philippines’ quick response team that went to Pangasinan a day after his death, one leader of the group named Lilia Migote Smith threatened Maganes with the message “Ipapapatay kita! (I'll get you killed!)”
“In view of the circumstances, we urge the Pangasinan police investigating this murder to prioritize the hypothesis that it was linked to the victim’s journalism,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Vir Maganes is the 18th journalist to be murdered since Rodrigo Duterte became president in 2016. It is time to end this deadly trend.”
On 8 November 2016, exactly four years and two days before his death, Maganes was the target of a shooting attack that he survived by pretending to be dead. A note found at the scene saying, “Drug pusher, don’t emulate,” was typical of the methods used by Duterte’s hit squads in his so-called “war on drugs.”
Maganes is the third Philippine journalist to be murdered in a similar fashion this year. Jobert “Polpog” Bercasio was killed by two men on a motorcycle in the eastern province of Sorsogon on 14 September after covering illegal mining in the region.
Cornelio “Rex” Pepino, a radio journalist who was gunned down in May in Dumaguete City, in the central province of Negros Oriental, was probably targeted because of his coverage of local bribery and corruption related to illegal mining.
The Philippines is ranked 136th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.