Philippines: Journalist shot dead by soldiers

Ronnie Villamor, a freelance journalist in Masbate province, was shot dead by soldiers in Milagros, on the island of Masbate, on November 14 in an alleged “encounter”. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) to condemn the killing and demand a thorough investigation to deliver justice.

Ronnie Villamor. Credit: NUJP

According to NUJP, a spot report on the incident from Milagros police chief Major Aldrin Rosales quoted army troops, led by 2nd Lieutenant Maydim Jomadil, as saying they were investigating the presence of five armed men in Barangat Matanglad who fled as they approached. Villamor, who was described as a "suspect," allegedly drew a firearm when ordered to stop, and was shot dead.

This accusation has been vehemently denied by Villamor’s colleagues, including members of the NUJP. Villamor, a stringer for a local tabloid who was also a pastor, had gone to Matanglad with four surveyors from Legazpi City at the request of the landowner "to provide media coverage of the activity”. A local journalist told NUJP that parties in land disputes often request media coverage for activities such as surveys, believing the presence of journalists will help prevent violence.

Villamor's colleagues said the victim and his companions even "coordinated with the local police and inform(ed) them of their purpose in going to Matanglad." The surveyors were unable to conduct the survey as they were prevented by a group of soldiers from doing so. Instead, Villamor and his companions decided to phone the local police for assistance. It was at that moment that several gun shots were heard and Villamor was killed.

Villamor is the fourth journalist murdered in Masbate after Joaquin Briones was murdered on March 13, 2017, Antonio Castillo was murdered on June 12, 2009, and Nelson Nedura was murdered on December 2, 2003. He is the 19th journalist killed during the Duterte administration and the 191st since 1986. He was also the second killed this month, only four days after NUJP member Virgilio Maganeswas shot dead by motorcycle-riding gunmen in front of his home in Villasis town on November 10. Hehad survived a prior assassination attempt on November 8, 2016, playing dead when motorcycle-riding gunmen shot and wounded him as he rode a tricycle to work.

NUJP said: “That he was "shot in broad daylight" helpless as revealed by frightful witnesses is so much a thought any sound minded journalist could imagine. In this regard, we condemn in the strongest term possible the killing of our colleague and demand a thorough investigation that appropriate justice be delivered!”

The IFJ said: "IFJ is deeply saddened by news of a killing of journalist Ronnie Villamor. We offer our condolences to the family of the deceased journalist. A thorough investigation must be conducted so that public will know the circumstances of this attack. IFJ reiterates that authorities must improve the safety of journalists. Journalism is not a crime, and ongoing attacks and killings are gravely concerning."

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