By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – Busy members of the Philippine community press here dropped everything at a day’s notice to meet with and congratulate media colleague Manuel Mogato who won his first Pulitzer for the investigative story “Duterte’s War” the day after he received his award at Columbia University.
Mogato wrote Duterte’s War for Reuters, published on June 29, 2017, together with Reuters special correspondent for the Philippines Clare Baldwin and Southeast Asia special correspondent Andrew R.C. Marshall. It won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize Winner for International Reporting for “relentless reporting that exposed the brutal killing campaign behind Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.”
Through Noel Pangilinan, editor for Asian American Writers Workshop’s Open City Magazine, we had a cordial and fun first-time meeting, almost like the proverbial the foot-fits-the-shoe instant connection kind of thing among journalists. Mogato was Pangilinan’s and The FilAm’s Cristina DC Pastor’s colleague in the media several years ago in Manila, ‘though. These were back in the Marcos martial law years where a typewriter was the journalist’s work animal and phoning in for stories was the style of work.
Mogato’s road to the Pulitzer was long and well-deserved. He was mostly assigned in the police and military beat for the past 30 years of his journalism career. He saw the fall of the Pres. Marcos in the historically known bloodless uprising at the Epifanio delos Santos Avenue in 1986, and now the rise of Pres. Duterte, long-time mayor of Davao City in southern Philippines.
People are scared of Duterte, he told us a matter-of-factly at the Cuban restaurant Sophie’s on mid-Manhattan, that is the impact of the so-called Davao Death Squad being imported from Davao to Manila. But he doubts whether the war on drugs will ever create peace and stability. “The drug war is about big business. They’d keep fighting,” he said.
Mogato emphasized that not all policemen are involved in arbitrary murders, but some officers could not resist the bounty of Php10,000 to Php50,000 (est. $190-960) for small or big targets. With the coming of the International Criminal Court and the international community looking at the Philippines, there may had been a more careful manner of implementing the drug war, he opined.
Our conversation was free-wheeling, swinging from reminiscences of old colleagues to the difference in political coverage of stories then and now. Mogato said that the threat on the lives of journalists who do serious investigative work has always been there, since the time of Martial Law. But to him, the current times are more scary. “With social media and trolls who subvert stories to make it look fake or who make fake news themselves, I find that more scary,” he said. (Featured photo: L-R The FilAm Press Club of NY’s Momar Visaya, Cristina DC Pastor, Manuel Mogato, Noel Pangilinan, Rene Pastor, Marivir Montebon, Don Tagala, and Boyet Loverita)