Free Press Unlimited and partners urge Scholz to press Philippine leader on journalist’s killing

Picture of Gerry Ortega held by his wife

German authorities must prioritize the Philippines’ abysmal record of impunity in the murder of journalists during the official visit by Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. scheduled for March 11-13, a coalition of three international press freedom organisations said on Monday.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz should make press freedom and specifically the case of murdered journalist Gerry Ortega, who exposed local corruption, a core element of discussions with President Marcos Jr., particularly given Germany’s special responsibility as co-chair of the Media Freedom Coalition, a grouping of 50 countries committed to promote press freedom at home and abroad.

The coalition – comprised of Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) – met with Philippine authorities in Manila on February 29 and March 1 to provide new and actionable information that points to the location of former provincial governor Joel T. Reyes, who is the alleged mastermind of Ortega’s murder in 2011 but remains at large, despite an outstanding arrest warrant issued in 2023.

“An alleged mastermind in the murder of a journalist remains unjustifiably at large in the Philippines, despite an arrest warrant. This is a troubling signal that the free press is fair game,” the coalition said. “We urge Chancellor Scholz to ensure that the media’s role as a pillar of democracy that holds power to account is protected, and that justice is delivered specifically in the case of Gerry Ortega, when he holds talks with President Marcos Jr.”

Ortega, a radio and environmental journalist based on the island of Palawan in the Philippines, reported on corruption within the administration of ex-Palawan governor Reyes before he was murdered.

The three international organisations, who together form the ‘A Safer World for the Truth’ initiative, have investigated the Ortega case since 2020. Despite damning evidence implicating Reyes as the mastermind, the former governor has to this day continued to evade arrest and remains at large.

Ortega’s murder is emblematic of the entrenched impunity in media killings in the Philippines. Since 1992, 96 journalists have been murdered in connection with their work in the Southeast Asian country, according to CPJ’s data. The Philippines ranked eighth on CPJ’s 2023 Global Impunity Index and 132nd on RSF’s World Press Freedom Index last year.

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