UPDATED: State of press freedomAttacks and threats in 2012

By Melanie Y. Pinlac

THE FAILURE of the Benigno Aquino III administration to stop the killing of journalists and to speed up the prosecution of cases in court has disappointed journalists, press freedom defenders—and those who have been demanding justice for their slain kin.

Nothing to celebrate

Compared to 2011, the number of journalists/media workers killed for their work this year has decreased. CMFR recorded a total of nine killings; four are currently categorized as work related. However, the decrease in the number of work-related killings is hardly worth celebrating in the context of the fact that none of the killings since Aquino came to power have been resolved.

The most recent work-related killing was that of radio broadcaster Julius Cauzo in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija. Cauzo was a commentator for dwJJ 684, a radio station owned by the family of the Cabanatuan City mayor. He was also vice president of the Nueva Ecija Press Club.

Before he was killed, Cauzo had been advocating approval of Cabanatuan’s classification as a highly urbanized city (HUC). Pres. Aquino declared Cabanatuan an HUC in July 2012. The declaration reportedly led to a heated altercation among local politicians. The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) was supposed to hold a plebiscite last Dec. 1, but has postponed it until after the 2013 elections.

A gunman riding on a motorcycle shot Cauzo,  who was then on his way to work. Passers-by found him sprawled along Cabanatuan’s Flowerlane street. Cauzo sustained three gunshot wounds in the back. The suspects remain unidentified.

Like in other cases, the motorcycle used by the gunman had no plate number.

Among the work-related murder cases in 2012, only the murder of village chairman and blocktimer Aldion Layao (dxRP, Davao City, April 8) has reached the court. The speedy filing of Layao’s case was partly due to his political connections and his widow’s unrelenting effort to seek evidence and testimony to support the prosecution.

Two unidentified men riding in tandem on a motorcycle attacked Layao who was driving home with his cousin and nephew last April 8. The alleged gunman, former barangay tanod Petronilo Demicillo, has been charged at the Davao City Regional Trial Court  (RTC) as of April 25.

Other cases in 2012 are those of Rommel Palma of dxMC-Bombo Radyo, Koronadal City, April 30; and of Nestor Libaton of dxHM, Davao Oriental, May 8.

Slow pace

The slow pace of the trial of the suspected perpetrators and masterminds of journalist killings continued in 2012, with no conviction during the year. CMFR records show that there have been no convictions in any work-related case since 2009, when Joy Anticamara was convicted of homicide for killing broadcaster Armando “Rachman” Pace. The decisions on media murders—in the cases of Roger Mariano in 2010 and Fernando Batul in 2011—were acquittals.

Branch 221 of the Quezon City RTC is still hearing the bail petitions of, so far, 58 accused perpetrators including those of five primary accused who are all Ampatuans, in the November 2009 Massacre. A positive development is the arraignment of Zaldy Ampatuan this Dec.12. Zaldy pleaded “not guilty” to 57 counts of murder. The court has yet to consolidate the 58th case—that of Reynaldo Momay—with the first 57 cases.

The murder of broadcaster and environmentalist Gerardo Ortega—the one case during the Aquino administration in which there has been the most progress—is now facing a legal obstacle. The Court of Appeals declared last Nov. 23 that the Justice secretary had erred in ordering a re-investigation of the alleged involvement of former Palawan governor Mario Joel Reyes, Coron town mayor Mario Reyes Jr., and three others in the Ortega slay. Joel Reyes allegedly masterminded the killing of Ortega. The Reyes brothers, a former provincial administrator, and two security personnel are facing murder charges together with the hired gunmen at the RTC Palawan Branch 52.

The case of the killers of broadcaster Romeo Olea has been classified as a cold case, with the police saying they have no leads.

Olea was killed on June 13, 2011 by an unidentified man in Iriga City, Camarines Norte. Olea hosted a public affairs program at dwEB-FM. He was the second dwEB-FM broadcaster killed under the Aquino administration, following Miguel Belen who was killed in July 2010.

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