Motorbike Assassins Shoot Dead Filipino Journalist in ‘Brazen’ Drive-By Ambush

The murder took place in the capital Manila, an especially bold act even in a country that ranks seventh most dangerous in the world for journalists.
Percival Mabasa assassination
Family members grieve the loss of journalist Percival Mabasa at their home in Las Pinas, suburban Manila on October 4, 2022. Photo: Jam Sta Rosa / AFP via Getty Images

A prominent broadcaster known for his scathing commentaries on the Philippine government was shot dead on Monday night, as he was driving out of his neighborhood in a suburb of the capital Manila to do his radio show.

Percival Mabasa, known to his audience as Percy Lapid, is the second journalist to be killed since dictator’s son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr assumed office in June, and the 197th since the fall of the older Marcos regime in 1986, when democracy was restored after two decades of strongman rule.

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Mabasa’s killing, which comes only two weeks after another journalist was stabbed to death, characterizes what advocates say is the shrinking space for dissent and free speech in the country of 110 million. According to press freedom groups, the fact the killing occurred in the capital marks an escalation in the grim trend of journalist killings in the Philippines, which the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks seventh among the most dangerous countries for journalists worldwide in 2021. 

“That the incident took place in Metro Manila indicates how brazen the perpetrators were, and how authorities have failed to protect journalists as well as ordinary citizens from harm,” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in a statement.

Mabasa’s ambush by two still-unknown assailants on a motorcycle happened in Las Piñas city in the capital region Metro Manila. All previous journalist killings in recent memory have taken place in more loosely governed provincial areas. On Sept. 18, radio broadcaster Renato Blanco was killed in Negros Oriental province—the first journalist to be killed under Marcos Jr’s administration.

The Philippines had a robust private news media scene in the years after 1986, and despite the constant thread of media-related killings in certain pockets, the national establishment had been generally tolerant of critical reporting. But Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency beginning in 2016 marked an autocratic turn in Philippine society, and he echoed Trump-esque tropes on the news media being “corrupt” and “biased” against him. 

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Two major news outlets, ABS-CBN and Rappler, have come under growing scrutiny in recent years. In 2020, ABS-CBN was ordered off the air after regulators refused to renew its license, while Rappler and its founder Maria Ressa have become the target of a litany of debilitating lawsuits, some pressed by government agencies, officials or their known associates. Press freedom advocates say this has triggered a “chilling effect” among other outlets, that has resulted in far less critical news coverage of the government.

This autocratic trend looks set to continue under Marcos Jr, who campaigned on what experts called “authoritarian nostalgia” built on a whitewashed retelling of his family’s history through a well-crafted disinformation and propaganda social media campaign.

Mabasa, according to the NUJP, “had been critical of the Duterte administration, as well as some personalities in and policies of the Marcos administration.”

An official from Marcos Jr’s office said the president has called for an investigation into Mabasa’s killing. The Las Piñas city police said it has formed a “special task force” on Mabasa’s case, and the national police “vowed to bring justice.”

The Manila embassies of Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and the UK called for accountability. “Journalist killings strike at the very core of media freedom and can create a chilling effect that curtails the ability of journalists to report news freely and safely,” the embassies of Canada and the Netherlands said in a joint statement.

On Tuesday night, the NUJP led a protest in Quezon City in Metro Manila, where journalists and activists demanded justice for Mabasa and called on Filipinos to defend press freedom. In a statement, Mabasa’s family said the crime “was committed not only against Percy, his family, and his profession, but against our country, his beloved Philippines, and the truth.”

Follow JC Gotinga on Twitter.