Duterte now vows to protect journalists

MANILA • Denounced by journalists' groups for a comment that news people were "not exempted from assassination", Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has changed his stance, vowing to protect them and pursue their killers.

The 71-year-old lawyer was elected President on May 9, propelled by his loud approval of hundreds of execution-style killings of criminals over nearly two decades, and takes office at the end of this month.

About 175 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1986, and it ranks 138th among 180 nations in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders.

"I do not condone nor tolerate killing of journalists, regardless of the motive of the killers, or the reason for their killing," said Mr Duterte in a statement yesterday. He has stopped holding news conferences in the wake of controversial remarks he made.

"I never said that killing journalists is justified because they are involved in corruption," according to the statement.

"My duty as President is to uphold and enforce the law and I will pursue and prosecute these killers to the hilt."

Last week, Mr Duterte said journalists were "not exempted from assassination if you are a son of a bitch", drawing an outcry from journalist groups, including France-based Reporters Without Borders, which called for a press boycott of the leader.

Mr Duterte had earlier joked about wanting to rape a "beautiful" Australian missionary who had been murdered during a 1989 prison riot in his hometown of Davao.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2016, with the headline 'Duterte now vows to protect journalists'. Print Edition | Subscribe