DAVAO CITY—President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said Monday he would give no media interviews until the end of his term to avoid “making more mistakes,” even as two UN human rights advocates condemned him for “irresponsible” statements that they said instigate deadly violence.
In line with his policy of no longer holding press conferences, Duterte told TV 5 Monday he would channel his messages to the public through government channels instead.
“If I give interviews, there will be more criticisms. No interview, no criticisms. No interview, No nothing. I’ll just shut up, I don’t want [to give interviews] anymore,” the president-elect said.
“I’m really sorry, but I’m boycotting the press until the end of my term,” he said in Filipino.
Duterte had a falling out with media during a news conference Thursday night, after the France-based Reporters Without Borders called on the local press to boycott him for saying that it was all right to kill corrupt journalists.
Although no local news organization heeded the call, Duterte angrily challenged journalists covering him to abandon their coverage and leave Davao City, saying he would course his messages through the government station PTV 4.
“Every time he talks, they might just find fault in him,” his top aide, Christopher Go said to justify the no-interview and no-press conference policy.
The UN special rapporteurs on Monday expressed alarm over the president-elect’s “provocative” statements that they said promotes killing without due process.
“A message of this nature amounts to incitement to violence and killing, in a nation already ranked as the second-deadliest country for journalists,” UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, Cristof Heyns said in a statement sent to The Standard.
“These comments are irresponsible in the extreme, and unbecoming of any leader, let alone someone who is to assume the position of the leader of a country that calls itself democratic.”
UN Special Rapporteur on freedom opinion and expression, David Kaye, said, “Justifying the killings of journalists on the basis of how they conduct their professional activities can be understood as a permissive signal to potential killers that the murder of journalists is acceptable in certain circumstances and would not be punished.”
“This position is even more disturbing when one considers that Philippines is still struggling to ensure accountability to notorious cases of violence against journalists, such as the Maguindanao massacre,” the human rights expert added.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday last week, Duterte said that most journalists killed in the country had done something wrong.
“If you will be killed, you will be killed. There is no way to know the next victim will be a journalist,” Duterte told journalists during his first press conference after being proclaimed president.
“Most of the time, you did something wrong,” Duterte said in Filipino, suggesting that victims were partly to blame for their fate. “You received money but you continued to criticize, that’s why you were killed. There is corruption in the media.”
Duterte cited as an example the 2003 killing of radio broadcaster Juan Pala, whom he described as a “rotten son of a bitch.”
In a seemingly unprovoked attack on the UN at a Thursday night press conference last week, Duterte launched a profanity-laced tirade against the United Nations while criticizing it for being too weak to fix problems in the Middle East and Africa in response to a question about foreign media groups that were critical of him.
“That’s the trouble here, they’re always raising fears about this or that United Nations convention,” Duterte said, even though the journalists’ criticism had not been linked to UN protocols.
“F— you UN, you can’t even solve the Middle East carnage… couldn’t even lift a finger in Africa… [where they are] butchering the black people there. Shut up all of you.”
Duterte refused to apologize and warned the media: “Don’t f— with me.”
Kaye said these statements send a strong message of concern about the plight of journalists in the country.
“Such provocative messages indicate to any person who is displeased by the work of a journalist or an activist, for example, that they can attack or kill them without fear of sanction,” Kaye said.
The UN special rapporteurs also slammed Duterte for promising to pay a P3-million bounty to police and military officials for every drug lord they kill.
“Talk of ‘dead or alive’ has no role to play in any state that claims to uphold human rights in law enforcement,” Heyns said.
“Intentional lethal use of force may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life and not for common policing objectives,” he said.
“The president-elect fools no one when he says he is not calling on people to be killed.”
In a separate statement over the weekend, the Philippine Press Institute—the national organization of all newspapers in the country, called on the incoming Duterte administration to “commit itself in no uncertain terms to protecting journalists and other media workers in the country and thus uphold the constitutionally enshrined freedom of the press.”
The PPI said “the incoming president’s disturbing remarks do nothing to counter the spate of media attacks in the country. On the contrary, they tend to foster the brazen sense of impunity behind the alarming rise of journalist deaths in the Philippines.”
It said that while it is true that some journalists are corrupt, “citing it as a deplorable reality in journalism practice is one thing, [and] using it as a justification for murdering or attacking journalists is absolutely another.”