Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the gun attack against a Remate photojournalist and his family, and the death threats against VERA Files

Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the gun attack against a Remate photojournalist and his family, and the death threats against VERA Files

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) expresses solidarity with the media community in strongly condemning the gun attack on Remate Online photojournalist Joshua Abiad and his family and the death threats against fact-checking media organization VERA Files.

Based on the police report, Abiad sustained two gunshot wounds after two unidentified assailants shot his vehicle multiple times along Corumi Street corner Gazan Street in Barangay Masambong, Quezon City on 29 June 2023. His 4-year-old nephew sustained gunshot wounds and died at the hospital on Saturday, 1 July 2023. Two other family members aboard the vehicle were also injured—his brother, 41-year-old Renato Abiad, and an 8-year-old nephew. A bystander was also hit by a stray bullet. The Presidential Task Force on Media Security disclosed that Abiad is a witness of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agencies in drug cases.

On 26 June 2023, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) that VERA Files received death threats, which were accompanied by photos of two men carrying assault rifles. According to the NUJP statement, the threats allegedly “came after VERA Files published a fact check that belied Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s claim that former President Duterte’s comments about killing police linked to the drug trade were only said out of frustration.”

CHR notes the immediate action of the PNP to create a special investigation task group dedicated to probing the shooting incident. We also acknowledge their efforts to secure the Abiad residence. In a recent statement, the Quezon City Police District ruled out Abiad’s profession as a photojournalist as the motive for the attack but did not disclose further details to not preempt the investigation results.

In line with our mandate to protect and promote the right to life, liberty, and security of all individuals, and uphold press freedom, the CHR-National Capital Region is also doing its parallel and independent probe to aid in uncovering the truth on the aforementioned incidents. We are hopeful of the investigation being done by relevant law enforcement agencies towards bringing perpetrators to justice. No stone must be left unturned in any case that attack and threaten fundamental rights and freedoms.

We also fervently call on authorities to provide adequate protection to both the Abiad family members and VERA Files officials and personnel. Immediate steps must be taken to ensure their safety and security.

CHR continues to reiterate that acts of violence and intimidation against media professionals and news outlets contribute to impunity and the erosion of press freedom, which negatively impacts the foundations of our democracy and the integrity of our society. May these incidents serve as a reminder to the government to continue to take proactive measures that will ensure the welfare and safety of media practitioners and all individuals to prevent further violence and create a safe and secure environment for all. ###