A Philippine journalist who survived a previous attempt on his life by pretending to be dead was gunned down in front of his home on Tuesday, a brazen murder in a country where the media is increasingly under attack.
Virgilio Maganes, 62, a radio commentator in the northern province of Pangasinan, was shot six times by two unidentified assailants riding a motorcycle as he was entering his residential compound, according to local police. A spokesperson for the Philippine National Police told VICE News that authorities were still investigating the incident.
Though no motive has been given, Maganes became the 18th journalist to be killed in the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
"It sends a signal how strong impunity is in this country. Anyone can just drive by your home and shoot you dead," union chair Nonoy Espina told VICE News. "The killers don't care. The lack of resolution of previous cases, the lack of conviction of masterminds really does embolden those who want to silence journalists."
The union condemned the killing and blasted the government's "empty boast that press freedom is alive and well in the country."
It said Maganes survived an attack in 2016 by lying still on the ground after being shot. The perpetrators placed a cardboard sign on his body saying "I'm a drug pusher, don't emulate me." The signs were commonly placed on victims of Duterte's bloody war on drugs. But rights groups say they have also been used by attackers to stir confusion over attacks and avoid justice. The 2016 incident also remains unsolved.
It also expressed disappointment that Maganes did not receive protection from the government despite surviving a previous attempt on his life. In 2016, Duterte created a task force to protect members of the media, but their efforts are often criticized for failing to resolve previous killings.
The Philippines under Duterte ranked seventh in the Global Impunity Index released by the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2020. Countless drug-related killings and attacks on environmental activists remain unresolved despite calls for investigationsfrom rights groups and the international community.
Assaults against journalists have coincided with increased legal pressure on independent media outlets in the country.
Earlier this year, leading TV network ABS-CBN was denied a license after being the target of repeated verbal attacks from Duterte. The network was forced off the air, leading to closure of its regional TV and radio stations.
In May, Maria Ressa, executive editor and CEO of muckraking online news site Rappler, was convicted of cyber libel along with a former writer-researcher. Pending appeal, they could be jailed for up to six years.