Philippines – Another journalist murdered, police fuel hostile climate for media
Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about the climate of violence and hostility for the Philippine media, to which police officers and other officials are contributing. Policemen have targeted journalists or their relatives in various ways in recent weeks including judicial proceedings, threats, obstruction and, in one case, a planned triple murder.
The press freedom organization offers his condolences to the family and friends of the latest victim of violence, Rommel “Jojo” Palma, a driver and journalist with dxMC-Bombo Radyo in Koronadal, on the southern island of Mindanao, who was fatally shot by two men on a motorcycle on 30 April.
“A proper investigation must be carried out into Palma’s murder as soon as possible,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It must not go unpunished as the murders of journalists Dennis Cuesta, Christopher Guarin and Aldion Layao have until now. Impunity is particularly disturbing when – instead of doing their job of protecting the public – some police officers abuse their authority and perpetuate the use of violence against those who expose their illegal activities.
“We appeal again to President Benigno Aquino to take effective measures to protect journalists and, when necessary, not hesitate to target the local criminal networks and police officers who act outside the law. We also urge him to not hide behind hypocritical comments about the media’s ‘negative’ impact on the country’s image to avoid tackling the most urgent problem, the climate of violence to which journalists are constantly exposed.”
There was a new development in the Dennis Cuesta case on 5 April when, during a radio interview, Alex Josol, the manager of dxMD Radio Mindanao Network in the city of General Santos (on Mindanao island), accused former police inspector Redempto “Boy” Acharon of planning to murder him and two other people, department of justice employee Badong Ramos and Cuesta’s widow, Gloria Cuesta.
Acharon’s alleged motive for wanting to kill them was to stop them campaigning for justice for Cuesta, a radio dxMD talkshow host who died on 9 August 2008 from the gunshot injuries he had received in a targeted attack in General Santos a few days earlier. Acharon was accused of the murder but avoided arrest and the case was shelved in 2010.
The source of the new allegations against Acharon was Jade Isa, a former Acharon associate who was the subject of Josol’s 5 April interview. Isa said he was present at meetings in November 2011 and February 2012 at which Acharon planned to kill the three with his cousin’s help.
Cuesta’s widow reacted by writing to the justice minister and President Aquino to demand immediate action on Cuesta’s murder and on Acharon’s alleged subsequent murder plans. Josol, for his part, asked the police to provide him with protection but they have not as yet responded to his request.
In a criminal libel case, a regional court in the city of Iloilo, on the central island of Panay, issued arrests warrants on 11 April for Junep Ocampo, the editor of The News Today (TNT), and Manuel “Boy” Mejorada, one of his columnists, making each of them pay bail of 10,000 pesos (179 euros) to avoid arrest.
The warrants were the latest development in a libel action by Iloilo mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog, who is suing them for 15.2 millions de pesos (272,000 euros) over an 8 November 2011 column headlined “Body of Evidence” in which Mejorada accused Mabilog of misusing a donation he had received as the founder and chairman of an Iloilo-based foundation
Iloilo prosecutor Honorio Aragona Jr. announced on 3 February that criminal libel charges would be brought against Mejorada and Ocampo because he found the column to be “libellous and sufficient to hold the respondents liable.” They would be given the chance to demonstrate that it was written “in good faith and in pursuit of the public good” at their trial, he said.
In the northern city of Olongapo, Mahatma Randy Datu, a reporter for the Manila-based Pilipino Star Ngayon (Filipino Star Today), filed a complaint against Olongapo police chief Christopher Tambungan on 23 April accusing him of threatening, coercing and slandering him when he and other reporters went to cover a hostage-taking at around 10:30 p.m. on 3 April.
The police summoned the media because the hostage-taker had said he wanted to talk to journalists. But according to Datu, whose account is confirmed by a radio dzMM reporter, Tambungan seized Datu by the shoulders, shouted, “You are not needed here, get out,” and physically ejected him from the compound where the hostages were being held.
When Datu reported Tambungan’s behaviour, the police chief issued a denial. Claiming he had simply asked the journalists to leave because they were upsetting the hostage-taker, he went on to accuse Datu and fellow Pilipino Star Ngayon reporter Alex Galang of writing “negative” articles about him. Datu had previously accused Tambungan of taking bribes from night-club owners.
In the case of Aldion Layao, a radio journalist and local politician gunned down on 8 April near his home in Lacson, on the outskirts of Davao City (on Mindanao island), the Mindanao Times reports that his widow, Rica Layao, was threatened at gunpoint on 24 April by Lacson police officer Gerardo Padillo after she named him as one his possible killers. Padillo was immediately arrested and a .357 calibre revolver was taken from him.
Rommel Palma, 31, who worked as a driver as well as a presenting local news reports and weather forecasts on dxMC-Bombo Radyo, was shot by two individuals on a Honda TMX motorcycle at around 5 p.m. on 30 April while waiting in the carpark outside the South Cotabato regional hospital in Koronadal, to which he had just driven another reporter.
After being shot four times in the neck and back with a .45 calibre handgun, he was pronounced dead at 5:45 a.m. by the hospital’s doctors.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines quoted DxMC-Bombo Radyo manager Hermie Legaspi as saying the police suspected two men, so far identified only by the aliases of Bobot and Hagibis, who had gone to Palma’s Koronadal home on 22 April and asked for him. On being told he was not there, they asked who his “protector” was.
Palma was the second journalist to be killed in Mindanao island’s South Cotabato region this year, following Christopher Guarin, the editor of Tatak News Nationwide and a host on radio station dxMD, who was ambushed and killed near General Santos on 5 January. Marvin Palabrica, an alleged gunman accused by local police of carrying out the Guarin killing on contract, is still at large.
Despite all the threats to journalists, President Aquino’s address to the Philippine Press Institute‘s annual National Press Forum on 23 April emphasized what he called the media’s “negativism,” which he said was hurting tourism and the country’s image. His comments were immediate condemned by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
There has been no let-up in the level of violence against the media in the Philippines in 2012. Three journalists have been killed since the start of the year and two others have survived murder attempts. The violence is often the work of paramilitary groups and private militias, which are on the list of “predators of freedom of information” that Reporters Without Borders issues ever year.
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