Murder of radio anchor caps turbulent day in Philippine media

A Philippine radio broadcaster from the central island of Negros has been shot dead, becoming the third media worker slain in Dumaguete City since 2018 and the 16th nationwide since President Rodrigo Duterte came to office in June 2016.

Cornelio Pepino was riding home from work on his motorcycle with his wife late on Tuesday when he was shot and killed, capping a turbulent 24 hours in the country’s media industry, which also saw the closure of its largest television network.

Before fleeing, the attackers shot the victim once more in the head, according to a radio report quoting Pepino’s wife, Colen.

The 48-year-old Pepino was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

In a video, Colen, who was unharmed, was seen weeping and begging for help on her mobile phone, while cradling her bleeding husband who was slumped next to their overturned motorcycle.

Police said an investigation is “still ongoing”.

The Philippines is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, with at least 186 media professionals killed since the country’s return to democracy in 1986, according to the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP).

Media observers say the level of impunity has reached an unprecedented level since Duterte was elected president.

This latest media killing comes as the country is under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Across the country, police have set up several checkpoints, raising questions about how Pepino’s killers managed to flee.

Critic of government corruption

In his afternoon radio programme, Pepino was known as a critic of corruption in local government in Negros. He had also criticised the distribution of allegedly overpriced food packs to communities affected by the coronavirus lockdown.

The management of the radio station where Pepino worked told Al Jazeera it was “saddened and angered by the senseless and brutal killing”.

While “hard-hitting” in his commentaries, colleagues were quoted as saying the victim never used profanity and would never flare up with emotion on the radio.

“Authorities should leave no stone unturned in bringing the killers of journalist Rex Cornelio Pepino to justice,” said Shawn Crispin, Committee to Protect Journalists senior Southeast Asia representative.

“Until the Philippine government shows it is serious about solving media murders, the vicious cycle of impunity will continue.”

The Dumaguete Press Club said the attack could be “politically motivated since politics was his favourite topic, which might have hit the nerve of some political sectors”, adding that “divine justice in all its forms will unmistakably come and be served”.

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