MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Committee to Protect Journalists urged Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday to act to stop attacks against the press in the country after three journalists were killed recently.
Shawn Crispin, the group's Southeast Asia representative, said in a statement the killings show "how the lack of progress in ending impunity has emboldened those bent on silencing the press in the Philippines."
Over the past two weeks, unidentified gunmen killed radio broadcasters Cosme Maestrado and Teodoro Escanilla and columnist and publisher Gregorio Ybanez.
The Philippine media watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility says if all three murders were determined to be work-related, the number of journalists killed in the country would rise to 150 since democracy was restored following the ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
"We call on President Benigno Aquino to give top priority to swiftly resolving these egregious cases," Crispin said. "Until Aquino demonstrates his government is serious about ending the onslaught, the killings will inevitably continue."
Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma has condemned the attacks and said the police have been tasked to find the killers.
Maestrado, who tackled corruption and abuse of power in his radio program in DXOC station in southern Ozamiz City, was shot multiple times outside a shopping center about two hours after closing his morning program on Aug. 27. Maestrado, who had the word "corruption" prominently tattooed on one of his arms, was popular for his hard hitting commentaries, radio station manager Remegio Bonustro said.
"He was a good man, kind-hearted and helped many people. His cry is for change," Bonustro said.
On Aug. 19, Escanilla, who is also a spokesman of the human rights group Karapatan in Sorsogon province and has been critical of alleged abuses by the military in his radio commentaries, was shot at the door of his home.
A day earlier, newspaper columnist and publisher Ybanez, who was also a board member of an electric cooperative in Davao province, was gunned down as he was about to enter his home in southern Tagum City. Police also are looking into a dispute among board members of the electric cooperative board as a motive in the killing.
Philippine National Police Director General Ricardo Marquez has said the police are giving "priority concern" to the attacks and formed separate special investigation groups to handle each of the cases.
The Philippines has one of the world's highest rates of unsolved media killings. The CPJ says the Philippines is the third most deadly place for journalists in the world after Iraq and Syria.