Journalist groups call for probe of Catanduanes publisher killing

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — International and Philippine journalist groups are calling for a probe on the killing of a Catanduanes publisher.

The groups said there's a possibility that the death of Catanduanes News Now publisher Larry Que may be connected to an article he wrote accusing the local government of negligence on stamping out illegal drugs.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said it's the first "murder" of a media person under the Duterte administration.

Que was shot in the head by a gunman as he was about to enter the building that houses his insurance office late Monday morning. Que passed died midnight of Tuesday, the NUJP reported. 

Although investigators have yet to link Que's killing to his work, the NUJP said the incident comes after Que wrote a column that criticized local officials' "alleged negligence, which allowed the setting up on the island-province of a recently raided shabu laboratory that authorities claimed was the 'biggest' so far discovered in the country."

According to the group, its Catanduanes chapter reported that another local journalist, Junky Tabor, has also received threats. It said Tabor acted as a witness to the laboratory raid.

Call for justice

"Philippine authorities should quickly apprehend the assailants and determine the motive behind publisher Larry Que's murder," said Shawn Crispin, Committee to Protect Journalists' (CP)J) senior Southeast Asia representative.

The CPJ  is an independent, nonprofit organization that seeks to promotes press freedom worldwide.

"President Rodrigo Duterte has sent mixed messages on his government's commitment to protecting journalists and upholding press freedom. He should set the record straight by quickly solving Que's killing through legal means," Crispin added.

Last October, President Rodrigo Duterte created the Presidential Task Force Against Media Killings, also known as the Presidential Task Force on Violence against Media Workers, through Administrative Order 1.

The task force is responsible for designating a special team of investigators and prosecutors to immediately resolve cases of violence against media workers.

It also provides protection to journalists "in danger," which includes being deployed in hostile areas such as those under armed conflict.

The group is also charged with processing complaints of violence filed by media workers, aid in witness protection, and submit regular progress reports to the president.

The NUJP said attacks have been carried out against media workers since the President took office.

"On the day of Duterte's inauguration, motorcycle-riding gunmen shot and wounded Saturnino 'Jan' Estanio of Radio Mindanao Network's dxRS in Surigao City and his 12-year-old son. A bystander was also slightly injured in the incident," NUJP reported.

"And last month (November), Pangasinan journalist Virgilio Maganes survived an attempt on his life by gunmen who apparently attempted to disguise the hit as drug-related," the NUJP added.

It said it has yet to hear back from authorities on these incidents.

Sought for comment on Que's death Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said on Wednesday the administration condemns "violence perpetrated against journalists."

"[W]e call on the authorities to investigate the matter so that justice will be served," the official added.

In a statement on Friday, the Office of the Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said that the administration has ordered the police to probe the incident. "To leave no stone unturned, the PNP through its Task Force Usig is now investigating on the ground. They have sent their initial report and is continuously giving updates."

"Our position is that as a matter of policy, Task Force on Media Security (TFOMS) will treat such case as work related until final determination. We are digging Mr. Larry S. Que's background as a politician and a businessman because his paper is just 2 weeks old," the office added.

According to the CPJ, the Philippines ranks fourth in its Impunity Index, "a global measure of countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free."

It said that "more journalists have been killed in direct relation to their work in the Philippines than anywhere apart from Iraq and Syria" since it began keeping detailed records in 1992.

CNN Philippines' Karmella Tordecilla contributed to this report.