Accused in 2009 killing of radio reporter convicted

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – A trial court found guilty one of two persons accused in the 2010 murder of a radio reporter in Nabua town, Camarines Sur last 5 February 2015. It was the 15th case out of 145 cases of journalists killed since 1986 in which there has been a conviction.

Branch 60 presiding judge Timoteo Panga of the Regional Trial Court of Iriga City found that the prosecution was able to establish all the elements of the crime of murder. He sentenced Eric Vargas to reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment) and ordered him to pay the widow of reporter Miguel “Mike” Belen PHP50,000 (USD1,128) in moral damages, P100,000 (USD2,256) in exemplary damages and P75,000 (USD1,692) in temperate damages.

A person riding pillion on a motorcycle shot Belen several times on 9 July 2010. He was allegedly on his way home from covering the last draw for the Small Town Lottery as a “volunteer reporter” for dwEB FM in Iriga City. He died on 31 July 2010, 22 days after the attack.

Belen identified Vargas as the person driving the motorcycle ridden by the person who shot him during the 9 July 2010 shooting. The person who shot Belen, a certain Gina “Ka Leizel” Bagacina, remains at large.

The court did not give credence to Vargas’ alibi that he was at his uncle’s house at the time of the attack on Belen. His uncle’s house is about 10 kilometers from where the shooting happened.

“The accused was positively identified by the victim as the driver of the motorcycle  the female assailant rode. The positive act of driving for the assailant, without any justifiable explanation other than bare and self-serving defense of denial and alibi of the accused, is clearly indicative that he is a co-conspirator of the female assailant,” the court said.

The court also explained that the misidentification of Vargas as a member of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) did not negate the positive identification by Belen. When the police officers asked Belen to describe his attackers, the reporter wrote that he heard the accused say that he was a CAFGU member.

One hundred forty-five journalists have been killed for their work in the Philippines since 1986, when the institutions of liberal democracy were restored after 14 years of dictatorship.

Decision of the RTC Iriga City Branch 60 in the Miguel Belen murder case by Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility