Killings of media practitioners continue despite protests. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)
I do not want to diminish his memory but he was a rotten son of a bitch. He deserved it. That can’t be just freedom of speech. The constitution can no longer help you if you disrespect a person.
— President Rodrigo Duterte, on the killing of journalist Junior Pala
TWENTY-TWO journalists and media workers have been killed since Duterte rose to power in 2016, and based on official data, three journalists were killed in 2021 alone.
In the current year and ahead of the upcoming national and local election on May 9, the deaths have not abated and more media men are being assassinated over reasons obviously related to their jobs—that of revealing the truth and exposing criminal and illegal practices, particularly corruption among government officials.
And hard-hitting former Maharlika TV News (MTVN) correspondent Hannah Villegas is not a stranger to her duty as a journalist; unfortunately, she died without mercy but with her integrity intact and her desire to inform the public solid in her heart.
Villegas was declared dead on arrival (DOA) at the Datu Hopper Hospital. She had been shot twice by an unknown assailant in the wee hours of April 15 at Sitio Badac in the southern province of Maguindanao.
Jannah, 36, after serving MTVN as a stringer, had continued to pursue the call of being a journalist and became an online vlogger for Balita Mindanao.
Before her fatal shooting, she was about to go to General Santos City with her husband Saudi Akmad to visit her brother-in-law Samuer Saba Akmad, who had been arrested and detained pending charges before the local court for illegal gambling.
The Sitio Badac, Barangay Mapayag resident had actually been receiving threats over her controversial exposés in Datu Angal Midimbang and other parts of Maguindanao. Her husband narrated that they had noticed the suspicious movement of Jannah’s killer but brushed aside their fears as they reasoned that it could only be unjustified paranoia.
However, Saudi was gravely mistaken as the very person, who even borrowed his lighter, turned out to be his wife’s merciless assassin.
Jannah’s killing made me recall a similar incident that I myself experienced. It is really true that things like this can happen without the slightest hint.
In 1997, I was celebrating the birthday of a colleague at a well-known nightclub at the corner of Antipolo Street and Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City. I went out for a while to invite my other colleagues, who were at another ‘watering hole’ to join us.
On arriving at the nearby nightspot, I was greeted ‘cheek-to-cheek’ by one of the girls working there—unaware that the area’s barangay chairman (and the girl’s alleged boyfriend) witnessed the whole affair and got extremely jealous.
In the end, while I was proceeding back to our birthday celebration, my would-be killer was waiting for me in ambush and sprung the attack as he innocently confronted me with a ‘who-are-you?’ question that caught me aback.
From there it was a vicious and bloody attack on me by the barangay chairman, which was only stopped when a policeman (Joe Tuazon) came to my rescue.
For some, the incident would seem to be rooted in jealousy, but investigative reports by my colleagues of People’s Journal Tonight later found out that my attacker had in reality an ‘ax-to-grind’ against me because I had been instrumental in the closure of his father’s gambling den through my reportage of its illegal operations.
This is the danger of being a journalist and this is what happened to Jannah Villegas.
We, members of the Fourth Estate, are always and in constant threat of violence as we perform our duties and responsibilities. It may be perceived as a perilous trade and professional but we cannot do away with our desire in serving the cause.
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