Filipino journalists

‘Enough is enough’: World’s journalists urge PH to solve Gerry Ortega killing

Jairo Bolledo

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‘Enough is enough’: World’s journalists urge PH to solve Gerry Ortega killing

FOR JUSTICE. International press freedom organizations Committee to Protect Journalists, Free Press Unlimited, and Reporters Without Borders, along with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, hold a press conference to address the state of the investigation on the murder of Filipino journalist Gerry Ortega in 2011, on March 1, 2024 in Quezon City.


Joel Reyes, the suspect behind the journalist's killing, is still at-large, 13 years since Ortega's death

MANILA, Philippines – The world’s largest and most respected media rights group came together to put pressure on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s government to solve the killing of environmentalist-journalist Gerry Ortega.

The coalition of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) announced on Friday, March 1, that they hold vital information that will help solve the 13-year-old case.

Jos Midas Bartman, the lead investigator for the FPU, said they received information about the whereabouts of former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, the suspect behind Ortega’s killing.

“He’s roaming around freely,” Bartman said.

Bartman said they will keep the information as confidential as possible, but confirmed that the suspect remains in the country. The coalition forwarded this vital information to Philippine authorities to speed up Reyes’ arrest.

The coalition met with Department of Justice spokesperson Mico Clavano on Thursday, February 29, and with Philippine National Police chief Police General Benjamin Acorda Jr. on Friday afternoon, March 1.

The coalition said they received a “broad promise” from the officials in relation to Ortega’s case. They said Acorda vowed that a few steps will be taken to arrest Reyes.

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Ortega was gunned down in a thrift store in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, in 2011. A staunch critic of Reyes, Ortega exposed corruption in Palawan and accused the former Palawan governor of misusing the Malampaya fund, or the profits from the exploration of the Malampaya gas and oil fields in Palawan.

In 2023, the Supreme Court ordered the rearrest of Reyes, who remains at large. For the last 13 years, he was able to stall the investigation and trial. In each step of the case, from prosecutors to the Supreme Court, Reyes had secured a win only to be reversed by the same body.

In 2021, the Ortega family was surprised because the suspect was apparently released and had managed to file his candidacy for governor of Palawan for the 2022 elections. Despite his candidacy and a supposed police manhunt, he was still not arrested. Reyes did not win in the polls.

The SC, in December 2023, granted Reyes’ plea and moved the trial from Puerto Princesa to Quezon City. Reyes claimed that he was at risk in Palawan due to his prominence and the limited resources to secure him. The trial’s transfer found the Ortega family “in the brink of renewed grief,” they said on January 25 this year, the 13th killing anniversary of their patriarch.

‘Enough is enough’

In a statement on Friday, the Ortega family thanked the coalition for their efforts to hold the perpetrator behind Ortega’s killing accountable. “[Thirteen] years is far too long to wait for justice. It is precisely this kind of unwavering solidarity that strengthens our resolve and renews our hope that, despite all odds, one day, justice will prevail.”

Beh Lih Yi, Asia Program Coordinator of CPJ, said during the press conference that until the mastermind in Ortega’s case is brought to justice, his killing will continue to create a chilling effect on the entire media landscape in the Philippines. She added that his killing continues to send a message that journalists can be silenced for just doing their jobs.

“So we are here today to urge and call upon President Marcos Jr.’s administration and  the law enforcement agencies to act upon this crucial piece of information and to immediately arrest the mastermind behind Gerry Ortega’s [killing]. So it’s time for to say, enough is enough,” Beh said.

Cédric Alviani, RSF Asia-Pacific Bureau Director, echoed Lih’s point: “So it’s time for action. Even if one single assassin, one single mastermind of a crime against journalists is still at-large, this is not acceptable and this is truly adding up due pressure on the journalists.”

The coalition said they will also look into other cases of killings in the country.

The Philippines remains a dangerous country for journalists. The country ranked 132nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s Press Freedom Index for 2023. The annual index shows the ranking of 180 countries based on political, legal, sociocultural, economic, and media safety factors.

Based on the NUJP’s tally, at least 199 Filipino journalists have been killed since 1986. This number includes all journalists slain in relation to their job. In terms of conviction of suspects, only 42 perpetrators were convicted out of 188, according to the NUJP Media Safety Office in 2020. The 188 reflected the number of journalists killed from 1986 to 2020.

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.