Media groups expressed outrage Wednesday at Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte's endorsement of killing corrupt journalists, warning his comments could incite more murders in a nation already one of the world's most dangerous for reporters.
Duterte, who won last month's elections in a landslide after pledging to kill tens of thousands of criminals, told reporters on Tuesday that there was justification for killing journalists who took bribes or engaged in other corrupt activities.
"Just because you're a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you're a son of a bitch," Duterte said when asked how he would address the problem of media killings in the Philippines after a reporter was shot dead in Manila last week.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines described the comments as "appalling". It conceded there were corruption problems in the industry but said these did not justify murdering reporters.
"He has also, in effect, declared open season to silence the media, both individual journalists and the institution, on the mere perception of corruption," the NUJP said in a statement.
The Philippines is one of the most dangerous nations in the world for journalists, with 176 murdered since a chaotic and corruption-plagued democracy replaced the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos three decades ago.
Speaking at a press conference in his home town of Davao to introduce his cabinet on Tuesday night, Duterte suggested the majority of those victims were partly to blame.
"Most of those killed, to be frank, have done something. You won't be killed if you don't do anything wrong," said Duterte, who will be sworn into office on June 30.
Luis Teodoro, deputy director of the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, described Duterte's comments as "distressing" and said they sent a signal to would-be killers that it was okay to murder in certain circumstances.
"When you say corrupt journalists can be killed, that is a very clear message," Teodoro told AFP.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned Duterte's remarks.
"What he has done with these irresponsible comments is give security officials the right to kill for acts that they consider defamation," its Southeast Asian representative, Shawn Crispin, told AFP from Bangkok.
"This is one of the most outrageous statements we have ever heard from a president in the Philippines."
- Journalist 'deserved to die' -
Duterte on Tuesday also raised the case of Jun Pala, a journalist and politician who was murdered in Davao in 2003.
Gunmen on a motorcycle shot dead Pala, who was a vocal critic of Duterte. His murder has never been solved.
"If you are an upright journalist, nothing will happen to you," said Duterte, who has ruled Davao as mayor for most of the past two decades and is accused of links to vigilante death squads.
"The example here is Pala. I do not want to diminish his memory but he was a rotten son of a bitch. He deserved it."
One of the world's deadliest attacks against journalists took place in the Philippines in 2009, when 32 journalists were among 58 people killed by a warlord clan intent on stopping a rival's election challenge.
More than 100 people are on trial for the massacre, including many members of the Ampatuan family accused of orchestrating it.
Duterte has named Salvador Panelo, the former defence lawyer for the Ampatuans who argued they were innocent, as his presidential spokesman, a nomination criticised by the victims' families and journalists' organisations.
Duterte promised in the election campaign that he could wipe out crime across the nation within the first six months of presidency, a seemingly impossible task which he said he could achieve by killing tens of thousands of criminals.
While Duterte has since said he will now only be able to "suppress" crime, he has continued to warn that security forces will be given shoot-to-kill orders and forecast mass bloodshed.
On Tuesday night Duterte said he would give security forces rewards worth tens of thousands of dollars for killing drug traffickers.Source: AFP