This undated photo shows slain journalist Virgilio “Vir” Maganes. (Reporters Without Borders/Twitter)

The provincial police formed a special task force to probe the killing of a journalist in Pangasinan following calls for justice by progressive groups online.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, November 11, the Police Regional Police Office 1 (PRO-1) director Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Azurin that he activated a special investigation task group that will look into the killing of Pangasinan-based journalist and columnist Virgilio “Vir” Maganes.

Azurin said that the group is currently probing into leads and persons of interest who were identified through footages in surveillance cameras near the crime scene.

The investigation is still ongoing.

Through social media posts on November 10, the National Union of Journalist of the Philippines reported the killing of Maganes and noted that the incident happened just a week after the International Day to End Impunity for Crime against Journalists on November 2.

Citing reports from provincial police, the NUJP reported that a motorcycle-riding gunman shot Maganes in front of his home in the town of Villasis in Pangasinan six times at around 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

NUJP also said that this could be related to the previous attempt to his life on Nov. 8, 2016, wherein he was similarly shot by motorcycle-riding gunmen while he was riding a bicycle.

Maganes only managed to survive after he “played dead” and the supposed perpetrators left a cardboard sign on him, saying: “Drug pusher huwag pamarisan.”

“This incident remains unsolved and Vir apparently remained unprotected. This did not, however, stop him from continuing to work as a journalist and Vir represented his chapter at the NUJP’s 10th Congress,” NUJP said.

In the organization’s count, the veteran broadcaster would be the 18th journalist killed under the Duterte administration and the 190th since 1986.

“His death is an indictment on this government’s empty boast that press freedom is alive and well in the country,” the group said.

While motives for the killing remain uncertain, the NUJP demanded authorities to resolve Maganes’ killing and bring justice to his family.

It also encouraged the Filipino journalism community to be steadfast in seeking for genuine press freedom and expression in the country.

“Even as we mourn the loss of a colleague and extend our heartfelt sympathies to all those he left behind, the community of independent Filipino journalists shall not let his death be in vain,” NUJP said.

“We will continue to seek justice for Vir and all our other fallen colleagues as we continue our struggle for genuine freedom of the press and of expression in our country,” it added.

Calls for justice

Reporters Without Borders, an international non-profit organization that advocates for global press freedom, similarly urged for an investigation into Maganes’ death.

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines, meanwhile, perceived this as part of the Duterte administration’s crackdown against dissenters.

“Even before the health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Duterte administration has been busy railroading its counter-insurgency efforts and witch-hunts towards deemed ‘dissenters,’ rather than addressing the pressing demands of the people,” said CEGP national president Daryl Baybado.

“Moreover, in the context of the current Anti-Terror Act of 2020 and other fascist measures such as Executive Order 70 and Memorandum 32, blood stains the journalists’ pen and ink, as another media-practitioner has been slaughtered mercilessly by state elements for being critical of the Duterte regime’s theater of lies and debauchery,” Baybado added.

Aside from progressive groups, other concerned Filipinos also expressed their condolences to the slain victim’s family and called for justice on their behalf.