Gov’t probes media killings

The Philippine National Police says there is no pattern in the killing of 3 media men across the nation

With file photo by AFP.

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) are investigating the killing of 3 media practitioners across the country in a span of just two weeks.

In a statement released by the PNP on Thursday, December 12, it said the police “do not see any common pattern among the cases.”

“At this early stage of investigation, there are no peculiar indications of a link that can connect the 3 incidents,” PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima said.

Purisima was referring to the killing of broadcaster Joas Dignos, 48, in Valencia City, Bukidnon on November 29; the shooting of 34-year-old Michael Diaz Milo, a broadcaster of Prime Radio FM who was killed in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur, last December 6; and the December 11 killing of 44-year-old Rogelio Butalid in Tagum City, Davao del Norte.

Unidentified gunmen shot and wounded a 4th radio journalist, Jonavin Villalbal, in the central city of Iloilo late Tuesday.

Three Special Investigation Task Groups (SITGs) composed of veteran crime investigators, forensic examiners, a legal team, intelligence support and local police are currently looking into the 3 murders in Bukidnon, Surigao and Davao.

Also on Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda gave assurances the government is working together to probe the killings, as instructed by Administrative Order (AO) 35, which created an inter-agency committee on extra-legal killings.

The AO, signed on November 22, 2012, designates the Justice Secretary to head the committee.

“Secretary Leila de Lima, together with the other government agencies, and PNP are looking into the murders, looking into the media killings… But certainly, the fact that there’s a task force devoted to these media killings, not only emphasized our concern but also our resolve to investigate these killings. We condemn these media killings,” he said.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists ranks the Philippines as the 3rd-worst in its “impunity index” of countries that fail to combat violence against the press.

By its count, the committee has said at least 72 journalists had been killed in the Philippines since 1992, excluding the 3 latest deaths.

In November 2009, 32 journalists were among 58 people kidnapped and massacred in the southern Philippines, allegedly by members of the powerful Ampatuan clan. (READ: Maguindanao massacre families demand state compensation)

Of the 196 people charged in that case, 88 remain at large, and rights groups said families of the victims as well as witnesses remain under threat of retribution.

Four years after the killings, no one has yet been convicted. Despite recent moves to speed it up, the trial is expected to drag on for years in the country’s overburdened court system. 

Progress?

The northern Mindanao police filed a case for murder against an identified suspect and several John Does for the killing of Dignos. The PNP said “the suspect was identified through a computerized facial composite provided by NBI based on descriptions provided by a key witness.”

Police also came up with an artist’s sketch of the alleged gunman in Butalid’s killing, based on testimonies of witnesses.

But it is Milo’s case that has advanced the furthest.

On Thursday, the Palace commended Surigao del Sur Police Provincial Office for the filing of a murder complaints against 4 suspects, including April Milo, the victim’s wife. The other 3 suspects are Arnel Fernandez, Bernie Ann Fernandez, and Police Officer 1 Hildo Patrimonio.

“We hope this will hasten the process for the filing of the necessary information in court, thus, leading the eventual arrest of the perpetrators,” Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said in a statement.

The PNP initially ruled out Milo’s killing as work-related, citing “possible motives such as his strained relationship with his estranged wife and in-laws.”

Milo’s radio station does not engage in hard-hitting commentaries and instead promotes alternative natural healing products, according to the police. – With reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com