Malacañang has condemned in the strongest terms the killing of veteran reporter Jesus “Jess” Malabanan, a correspondent for the Manila Standard, who was shot at close range while tending to his store in Calbayog City Wednesday evening.

“Jess is a personal friend of mine. This cowardly killing in the midst of a pandemic is truly unforgivable. We will get to the bottom of this and will stop at nothing in bringing to justice the perpetrators of this despicable crime,” Executive Director Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco of Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) said.

Egco, a veteran journalist himself, worked for the Standard for 12 years covering the defense, police, courts, Malacañang, senate, and congressional beats.

Based on the official report submitted to the PTFoMS by P/Lt. Nieto Rarugal of the Calbayog City Police Station, Malabanan was shot in the head while watching television inside their store in Barangay San Joaquin, Tinambacan District by motorcycle “riding-in-tandem” gunmen on December 8 at around 6:30 p.m. He was rushed to a nearby hospital but was declared dead on arrival. He was 58 years old.

Egco said that PTFoMS is on top of the situation and has directed the Philippine National Police (PNP) to thoroughly investigate the crime. He added that he would go to Samar to personally oversee the probe into Malabanan’s death and to attend the wake and condole with the victim’s family and friends.

He assured them that the Presidential Task Force will not sleep until the perpetrators are apprehended.

The PNP is currently conducting a “hot pursuit operation” to apprehend the suspects who fled the incident headed north towards the direction of San Isidro, Northern Samar.

The San Isidro MPS has also been alerted of the crime and were tasked to “conduct checkpoint for possible identity and arrest of the fleeing suspects,” Rarugal said in the report.

Malabanan is based in Angeles City, Pampanga.

Initial verification by PTFoMS from the victim’s close friends and colleagues indicated that he had no known enemies and was not a hard-hitting journalist.

PTFoMS has also learned that Malabanan was planning to stay for good in Samar to focus on his farm business.

In 2017, Malabanan sought the help of PTFoMS and was immediately given police security.

Egco reminded all media practitioners to report to PTFoMS any threat or harassment so that they can be acted on as soon as possible.

“Always remember that the PTFoMS is here to serve you 24/7. We can provide you with necessary assistance and security if you feel that your lives are being threatened in any way.”

Created by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, it is the mandate of the PTFoMS to safeguard press freedom by protecting the life, liberty, and security of media workers.

The task force considers all forms of violence against media people to be work-related until a further investigation proves otherwise. In 2021, with a dedicated mandate to resolve media killings in the country, the PTFoMS oversaw the 51st case of media killing that resulted in a guilty verdict, bringing to 68 the total number of media killers that were convicted by our courts.