Trump chuckled as Duterte called journalists 'spies.' That's no joke in the Philippines.
November 14 at 5:26 AM President Trump talks with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte during a dinner in Manila. (Johnathan Ernst/Reuters)
After President Trump boasted of his âgreat relationshipâ with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during a meeting in Manila Monday, American reporters pressed Trump on whether he brought up human rights issues.
âWhoa, whoa,â Duterte said, cutting off the journalists. âThis is not a press statement. This is the bilateral meeting.â
Then, Duterte told reporters: âWith you around, guys, you are the spies.â
âHah, hah, hah,â Trump said laughing, according to a transcript of the conversation.
âYo u are,â Duterte repeated.
Hearing the Philippine strongman once again demonize journalists â" and seeing Trump chuckle in response â" struck a nerve among journalists and activists in the Philippines and beyond.
The Philippines ranks as the fifth most dangerous country in which to be a journalist, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least 177 Filipino media workers have been killed since 1986. In the past decade, 42 journalists have been killed with total impunity, the report said, and at least four journalists have been killed in the time since Duterte took office in June 2016.
Indeed, the threats faced by the news media in the Philippines are no laughing matter. Duterte came under fire last year for appearing to defend the killing of journalists, insisting that many slain journalists had been corrupt and had âdone somethingâ to justify being killed.
âJust because youâre a journalist you are not exempted from ass assination if youâre a son of a bitch,â Rodrigo Duterte, then president-elect, said in May of last year, Agence France-Presse reported.
He suggested many of the killings were done in retaliation or journalists accepting bribes or criticizing people. He also called one recently slain journalist ârotten,â the Associated Press reported.
The comments spurred widespread condemnation from journalists and activists worldwide. The Committee to Protect Journalists said his remarks threatened to turn the Philippines into a âkilling field for journalists.â
[From Burma to the Philippines, Trump largely ignores human rights on Asia trip]
Duterte himself has been accused of ordering the assassination of a journalist. In February of this year, a former Philippine policeman, Arturo Lascanas, acknowledged his role in a 2003 killing of radio journalist Juan âJunâ Pala.
He said the assassination was ordered and paid for by Duterte, then mayor of D avao City, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists and local news reports. The former policeman said Duterte ordered a âdeath squadâ to carry out extrajudicial killings, which Duterte has repeatedly denied, Reuters reported.
Duterteâs administration has pledged to investigate and solve the murders of journalists. In October of last year, he formed a Presidential Task Force on Media Security designed to speed up investigations and prosecutions of media killings. But so far, there have been no convictions, and âlittle evidence that the task force has actively pursued attacks on journalists,â according to Human Rights Watch.
In a span of two days in August, two radio journalists were shot dead. Rudy Alicaway, a 46-year-old radio host, was fatally shot on his way home from work in the southern province of Zamboanga del Sur. Two gunmen on a motorcycle shot him, before getting off the vehicle and shooting him again as he tried to flee, ensuring his death, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
The following day, a 60-year-old local columnist and radio reporter, Leodoro Diaz, was fatally shot on his way home in the Sultan Kudarat province. Earlier that day, he told his colleagues he planned to publish a report on illegal drugs, according to Human Rights Watch. Authorities have not determined a motive for either Alicawayâs or Diazâs killings.
On August 10, three days after Diazâs death, an assailant shot 65-year-old columnist Crisenciano Ibon in Batangas City. Ibon survived the shooting, which police suspect may have been ordered by operators of illegal gambling. Ibonâs recent columns had shed a negative light on the industry, according to the Philippine Star.
Relatives of 32 journalists and m edia workers who were killed in 2009 in the massacre of 58 people in Maguindanao province in southern Philippines, march in Manila in 2015. (Bullit Marquez/AP)
The single deadliest attack on journalists anywhere in the world took place in the Philippines. The 2009 Maguindanao massacre left 30 local journalists and two media workers dead, along with 26 other civilians.
A convoy of family members and supporters had been accompanying a local vice mayor on the island of Mindanao to register his candidacy for upcoming gubernatorial elections, according to a lengthy report in Human Rights Watch called, âThey Own the People.â
Around 30 members of the news media went along to cover the event. As the group drove down the highway, about 200 armed men forced them out of their vehicles, and executed them all, burying them on site.
Eight years later, not a single person has been convicted in connection with the mass killing. Three suspects were acquitted in July due to lack of evidence, the Philippine Star reported.
âThe fact that the no one has yet been convicted nearly eight years after the massacre underscores the fact impunity reigns in this country,â the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in a statement.
âImpunity exists to this day under the Rodrigo Duterte government, which is not doing any better than his predecessors,â the union continued. âIn fact, he himself justified the killings of journalists.â
âFake newsâ in the Philippines â" in the form of dubious and counterfeit online news sites â" have built support for Duterte, Miguel Syjuco, a Filipino professor at N.Y.U. in Abu Dhabi, wrote in the New York Times. These sites have featured false endorsements of Duterte from leaders such as Pope Francis and Angela Merkel, and celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Dwayne Johnson.
During the presidential election, Duterteâs social media team paid hundreds of prominent online com mentators to post a barrage of pro-Duterte comments on social media and bash critics. As the New Republic reported, online trolls with fake social media accounts can earn up to $2,000 a month to post pro-Duterte propaganda on the Web.
The messages seemed to work â" the president maintained approval ratings above 60 percent until last month, when his net satisfaction rating fell to 48, classified as âgood,â the Wall Street Journal reported.
The drop in ratings comes as the president continues to wage a bloody drug war that has claimed thousands of lives in extrajudicial killings by police or hit men.
According to the International Press Institute, Duterteâs assaults on the news media seem to be rubbing off on his supporters. Journalists who are critical of Duterteâs policies or write about issues such as drug trafficking or corruption face defamation suits and online backlash, IPI reported.
On Monday, journalists and human rights activists on soci al media were quick to point out that accusing journalists of being spies is no joke in this country â" or anywhere, for that matter. Some criticized Trump for laughing at Duterteâs comment, while others said they werenât all that surprised.
Trump has frequently lashed out at the news media, which he has called âthe enemy of the American People.â He wrote on Twitter last month that NBC News should be punished by regulators after the organization published a report that he did not like.
He suggested that networks that report âfake newsâ should be stripped of their licenses. First Amendment advocates condemned his comments as an attack on the Constitution.
âItâs frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write,â Trump said. âAnd people should look into it.â
In August, Zeid Raâad al-Hussein, the United Nationsâs human rights chief, said that freedom of the press is âunder attac k from the president.â
âTo call these news organizations âfakeâ does tremendous damage,â he said. âI have to ask the question: Is this not an incitement for others to attack journalists?â
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