Visayas Coverage, 2018


by Nestor Burgos


   Nestor P. Burgos Jr. who is based in Iloilo reviews the news coverage in the Visayas in 2018 and reveals killings as the     big story, the almost routine murder of suspected drug personalities and fatal attacks against activists and human
   rights defenders. The term extrajudicial applies perhaps to most of these. The pattern in the conduct of police
   operations in the capital regions is well known.

MT notes the lack of reports on the failure of the police to conduct credible and serious investigations of the men in uniform. As in other regions, they are slow to report on their findings or on the prosecution of police officers who are found to have killed suspects without cause. Police are quick to heap blame on the media for hyping the killings, but three years after the launch of the government’s war on drugs, journalists are right to make police-related killings the big story. The Iloilo city council passed a resolution asking the PNP to explain the peace and order situation, a rare expression of local government concern about the toll of victims in the drug war. Could media’s attention have made a difference? Unfortunately, journalists themselves are under threat and attack and fear may explain journalistic temerity about highlighting police inaction on these cases.

EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS dominated media coverage in the Visayas in 2018 as journalists grappled with the unprecedented frequency of the killing of suspected drug personalities and the surge in the number of attacks against activists and human rights defenders.

The biggest stories also included the closure of Boracay Island, the landslide in Naga City in Cebu on September 20, 2018 which left 78 persons dead, and the bid of the Razon group to take over power distribution in Iloilo City as the 95-year operations of the Panay Electric Company came to an end.


The killing of suspected drug users and pushers soared after President Duterte came to office. The year 2018 saw a massive increase in fatal shootings usually by motorcycle-riding assassins and in anti-illegal drug police operations in the Visayas.

The Cebu Daily News reported 253 fatalities in shooting incidents from February 17 to December 15 alone, or an average of one killed almost daily. The majority (184) were killed by unknown assailants while the rest died during police operations, according to the report.

Shooting incidents involving motorcycle-riding gunmen and deaths due to drug-related police operations also increased in Western Visayas especially in Antique and Iloilo provinces.

The killings prompted the Iloilo City council to pass a resolution seeking an explanation from the Philippine National Police on the city’s peace and order situation.

The suspected involvement of police personnel in the vigilante-type attacks on suspected drug personalities received a boost when two shooting incidents in the Visayas that linked policemen to these attacks were widely reported by news organizations.

Five persons were gunned down on October 4, 2018 in Barangay Malubog, in Cebu City by unidentified gunmen. But two survivors later said they had been picked up by policemen who brought them to the mountain village where they were shot.

In Iloilo City, a policeman who survived an ambush identified another policeman as the gunman who had repeatedly shot him along the national highway in Arevalo District.

While news organizations focused on these stories, these were not sustained and still not enough, considering that these were among the first concrete proof of the involvement of policemen in some of the killings of suspected drug personalities.  


Screengrabs of frontpages of Visayas Newspapers. 


Their extended coverage of killings took its toll on journalists. Reporters covering the almost daily shootings in Cebu told the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines that several of them had been traumatized by their continuous and repeated coverage of those incidents.

Many said they now fear motorcycle-riding men. Many have experienced difficulty in sleeping and eating. The journalists sought comfort and help from colleagues and their families and, in one instance, from a priest.

In many cases of suspected extrajudicial killings and deaths in police operations, police officials and reports were the main sources of information for news reports as the families of those killed remained hesitant or refused to speak with journalists.


Attacks on and the killing of activists and human rights defenders on Negros Island increased sharply last year.

The human rights group Karapatan in Negros recorded at least 42 alleged victims of extra-judicial killings on the island from January 2017 to December 21, 2018. Many of the killings were in Guihulngan town in Negros Oriental.

The most prominent cases include the massacre of nine farmers in Sagay City in Negros Occidental on October 20, 2018 and the killing of human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos Jr. on November 6 in Kabankalan City in Negros Occidental.

While there were reports on these incidents as well as follow-up stories, there was a lack of focus on the alarming number of killings and the failure of law enforcement agencies to resolve them. Many of the stories were based on the statements of military and police officials and of human rights groups, but lacked analysis and interpretation.

There was no in-depth and comprehensive reporting on the human rights situation on the island which some veteran human rights advocates were saying is worse than during the Martial Law period under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Given the urgency of providing the media audience the information it needs to understand what is happening, the failings noted above made the media coverage of the Visayas less than adequate in 2018.


Meanwhile, the six-month rehabilitation of Boracay Island in Aklan province, which closed it to tourists and non-residents from April 26 to October 25, 2018, was a major national story that was extensively covered by news organizations especially those on Panay Island.

The closure of the country’s prime tourist destination also became a press freedom issue when an interagency task force tried to implement guidelines on media coverage that severely restricted the access and movement of journalists on the 1,032-hectare island.

The objectionable provisions of the guidelines were eventually scrapped because of the protests of reporters covering the closure and several media organizations. But only a limited number of journalists accredited by the Department of Tourism were allowed into the island.

Coverage started even before the closure of the island and lasted until it was reopened to tourists on October 26, 2018. Aside from reporting the statements of government officials and agencies, several news organizations also delved into the long-running environmental problems of the island and the impact of the closure on residents and workers.

Most of the stories, however, were based on official sources. The immediate and long-term impact of the closure on around 30,000 workers dependent on the tourism industry was generally underreported.

Many of the reports were based on the official pronouncements and regular updates by government agencies. They lacked context and historical perspective, and did not look at the role and liability of government agencies in non-resolution and worsening of the problems of the island.

Neither was there enough critical reporting on the massive deployment of policemen and soldiers on the island that turned the tourist destination into a virtual military enclave.

Many residents, especially business operators, were intimidated or hesitant to go on record and to openly speak out against government policies for fear of being singled out for harassment by government agencies.

There was a noticeable absence of reports on the possible violation of the human rights of residents and visitors in the context of the policies State agencies were implementing.