Pulitzer-winning Filipino journalist tells colleagues: Stay with the fight

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 17 2018 03:54 PM | Updated as of Apr 17 2018 04:03 PM

MANILA - A Filipino journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on alleged drug war deaths urged his colleagues to stay with the fight despite difficulties facing the free press.

Manuel Mogato won the international reporting Pulitzer with Reuters colleagues Clare Baldwin, Andrew R.C. Marshall for their "relentless" reporting on deaths allegedly linked to President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

As the press came under attack across the globe for reporting critical of popular leaders, Mogato told fellow journalists: "Kapag umatras ka, walang mangyayari."

(If you back down, nothing can be achieved.) 

"Maraming journalist ang mataas pa rin ang commitment and perseverance. Dapat tuloy-tuloy lang, huwag bibitiw. Sa tingin mo ba mananalo ang masama sa mabuti? In the end, mayroong mangyayaring mabuti," he added. 

(Many journalists have high levels of commitment and perseverance. We should forge on, don't let go. Do you think evil will ever triumph over the good? In the end, something good will happen.)

Mogato, whose journalism career has spanned 3 decades, said journalists now find it difficult to obtain police data on anti-drug operations, especially after the International Criminal Court launched a separate preliminary probe on the campaign.

"Pahigpit nang pahigpit iyung rules," he said in an interview with ABS-CBN News. 

(The rules are getting stricter.) 

FILE PHOTO: A drug suspect's daughter is pictured in front of a shrine for her father in the family home in Bagong Silangan district, Quezon City, in November 2017. Erik De Castro, Reuters

The Reuters coverage included a report on how a police anti-drug squad on the outskirts of Manila had recorded an unusually high number of killings. 

Many members of the squad came from a distant Davao City, Duterte's hometown, where he has been accused of organizing a vigilante squad that assassinates drug suspects and rivals. Malacanang has repeatedly denied such allegations.

Mogato said 2 suspects were killed by motorcycle-riding gunmen in the short time that he stayed in Davao during the lead-up to the 2016 elections. This, he said, piqued Reuters’ interest in Duterte’s anti-crime approach. 

Potential story sources were scarce until a retired police official, whom he knew from his days as a crime beat reporter in the 1980s, divulged that lawmen were allegedly behind the clandestine killings, he said.

The retired general, he said, introduced the Reuters team to policemen who described the supposedly staged crime scenes and rewards for killing suspects.

"Reuters couldn't have done that story without him," a former colleague of Mogato told ABS-CBN News, describing the journalist as a friend of several former defense chiefs and former President Fidel V. Ramos. 
 
Mogato said the Pulitzer-winning piece was "a team effort" that went through 2 months of line-by-line editing before it was sent to Reuters’s editors and lawyers in New York and London for checks against libel. 

Malacañang, however, dubbed the coverage as “bad journalism,” for allegedly failing to get the side of authorities, which Reuters denied. 

“Wala kaming bias for or against anyone... Ginagawa lang namin ang istorya,” Mogato said. 

(We do not have bias for or against anyone. We simply wrote the story.) 

The Pulitzer nod, he said, proves that “you can't cover up what is happening -- especially the killings.” 

FILE PHOTO: A drug suspect shot by police arrives at a public hospital in central Manila in June. He was declared dead on arrival in November 2017. Dondi Tawatao, Reuters

Mogato, who has been the subject of online hacking and threats for his reports, urged the public to regard the press among checks and balances that make the free marketplace of ideas possible. 

A former professor at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, he also suggested teaching media literacy in grade school to help fight propaganda and disinformation, which can only be curbed "if you have Filipinos with critical thinking." 

Mogato has been at the front row of the country's most turbulent events, including the end of Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship, the ouster of former President Joseph Estrada in 2001, and the onslaught of Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. 

Armed with sharp memory, Mogato would often cover stories without the aid of notebooks or pens, a former colleague said. 

Aside from Mogato, other Filipino Pulitzer winners include Carlos P. Romulo for his forecast of Far Eastern developments in 1943; and Jose Antonio Vargas, a member of the Washington Post team that covered the 2008 Virginia Tech shooting.