Incoming president Rodrigo Duterte has sparked outrage in the Philippines after saying that corrupt journalists are not off limits for assassination. The president-elect's comments triggered strong backlash in a country considered to be the second deadliest in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
"Just because you're a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you're a son of a b***h," Duterte said on 31 May. Speaking to reporters, the chairman of Philippines' PDP-Laban party was responding to questions about how he would deal with media killings after a reporter was shot dead in the capital, Manila, last week.
Duterte ran a highly controversial election campaign and swept to power in a landslide victory in last month's elections after promising to put an end to crime and corruption within six months. The tough-talking former mayor of the southern city of Davao also promised to reintroduce capital punishment and hand security forces the authority to stop criminals under a "shoot-to-kill" policy.
Speaking at a press conference to present his new cabinet, Duterte suggested many victims had actually warranted being killed. "Most of those killed, to be frank, have done something. You won't be killed if you don't do anything wrong," said Duterte, according to AFP.
The Philippines is one of the deadliest places on Earth for journalists, with 75 murders since 1992 and 174 killed since democracy replaced Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship three decades ago.
Duterte, who will be sworn in as president on 30 June, also suggested the constitution does not necessarily guarantee protection from violent repercussions for defamation. "That can't be just freedom of speech. The constitution can no longer help you if you disrespect a person," he said.
The outspoken president-elect also brought up the case of Jun Pala, a journalist, politician and open critic of Duterte who was murdered in Davao in 2003. Pala was gunned down by men on a motorcycle and his assassination was never solved.
"If you are an upright journalist, nothing will happen to you," said Duterte. "The example here is Pala. I do not want to diminish his memory but he was a rotten son of a b***h. He deserved it."
The Filipino leader's comments were widely condemned and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) slammed the remarks as "appalling". In a statement, the NUJP said: "He has also, in effect, declared open season to silence the media, both individual journalists and the institution, on the mere perception of corruption."
Luis Teodoro, deputy director of the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, called Duterte's remarks "distressing" and said they effectively place a green light on murder in certain situations. "When you say corrupt journalists can be killed, that is a very clear message," Teodoro told AFP.