Jesus “Jess” Malabanan was watching TV at around 6 p.m. yesterday in the small store run by his family in Calbayog City, in the eastern province of Samar, when a gunman suddenly appeared and killed him with a single shot to the head. He died on the spot.
A permanent correspondent for the Manila Standard Today newspaper, Malabanan had also worked for the Manila Times, Central Luzon Daily and the ABS-CBN TV and had contributed to articles for the Reuters news agency.
It was partly for Reuters that he had investigated certain aspects of the “war on drugs” launched by President Rodrigo Duterte, especially that fact that mainland China was the one of the major sources of drugs entering the Philippines.
As fellow journalist Manny Mogato noted on Twitter, it was the Reuters stories on the “war on drugs” to which Malabanan contributed that won a Pulitzer prize in 2018. As a result of the publication of these stories and the ensuing repeated threats, Reuters helped Malabanan to abandon his base in the northern city of Pampanga in order to go into hiding on the island of Samar.
33 killed in 10 years
“We call on the Philippine authorities to immediately dispatch a team of investigators to Calbayog in order to identify those responsible for Jess Malabanan’s shocking murder,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “There are many reasons for thinking that he was targeted because of his investigation reporting, some of which was particularly sensitive. The handling of this case and the fight against impunity for crimes against journalists is a test for the rule of law in the Philippines.”
According to RSF’s press freedom barometer, if the hypothesis of a targeted murder linked to his journalism is confirmed, Malabanan is the 16th journalist to be murdered in the Philippines since Duterte became president in 2016. His murder took place on the same day that fellow Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, the founder and CEO of the Rappler news website, set off for Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony on 10 December.
In anticipation of the ceremony in Oslo at which two journalists will receive the Nobel Peace Prize, RSF has just published a breakdown of murders of journalists worldwide in the past decade, according to which at least 33 journalists have been killed in connection with their work in the Philippines in the past ten years, making it the world’s eighth most dangerous country for media personnel.
The Philippines is ranked 138th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.