press freedom

Solve Ortega killing: Media groups put pressure in Marcos’ Germany visit

Lian Buan

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Solve Ortega killing: Media groups put pressure in Marcos’ Germany visit

BERLIN MEET. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. is welcomed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the Federal Chancellery on March 12, 2024.

Handout/Presidential Communications Office

Germany is co-chair of the Media Freedom Coalition which promises to improve press freedom in the world

MANILA, Philippines – The world’s largest media groups are trying to apply pressure on both the Philippines and Germany to solve the 13-year-old murder case of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerry Ortega.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met German chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Tuesday, March 12.

“German authorities must prioritize the Philippines’ abysmal record of impunity in the murder of journalists during the official visit by Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr.,” the groups Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontières or RSF), and Free Press Unlimited (FPU) said in a joint statement.

Marcos has been jet-setting around the world since he took over the presidency in 2022 in a bid to raise investments and trade. However, his critics see it largely as a campaign to rehabilitate his family’s image. His father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., is known in the world for his bloody kleptocracy during his dictatorship from 1972 to 1986.

The groups, which visited the Philippines last month, is turning the pressure on Germany this time, pointing out that the country is co-chair of the Media Freedom Coalition (MFC), a group of 50 countries that have pledged to improve the state of press freedom in their home bases and elsewhere. The MFC was structured that way to have access to governments, and the coalition promises to use “its ability to intervene at the highest level with the governments of countries where media freedom is at risk.”

To raise the Ortega case with Marcos would be to fulfill Germany’s “special responsibility” as co-chair of the MFC, said the groups.

“We urge Chancellor Scholz to ensure that the media’s role as a pillar of democracy that holds power to account is protected, and that justice is delivered specifically in the case of Gerry Ortega, when he holds talks with President Marcos Jr.,” they said.

Ortega was an environmentalist and broadcaster who critically reported on local corruption in his home province of Palawan. He was killed 13 years ago or in 2011. The suspect, former Palawan governor Joel Reyes of an influential local dynasty, has had a protracted trial. He was a fugitive in the early part of the murder case and was arrested in Thailand in 2015. He was released three years later when the Court of Appeals decided to stop the trial in Palawan. In 2022, he was able to run for governor of Palawan even though there was a standing warrant but lost. The Supreme Court ordered his rearrest in March 2023, and Reyes went into hiding again.

During their visit to the Philippines, representatives of the global media groups met with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Philippine National Police (PNP). The groups offered leads, including information that Reyes was still in the country.

“The information we have given to the Department of Justice and the Philippine police provides all the keys to finding and arresting Joel T. Reyes, the alleged mastermind of the murder of Gerry Ortega,” said Cédric Alviani, RSF Asia-Pacific bureau director.

“It is now the responsibility of the country’s authorities to do everything possible to arrest the former governor and bring justice to the journalist’s relatives, 13 years after this shocking crime,” Alviani said.

Philippines ranks high in CPJ’s impunity index, and low on RSF’s global press freedom index.

Marcos, who utilizes diplomacy to project a good image of the country on the international front, has had to answer for the independent assessment of United Nations special rapporteurs that rate freedom and human rights in the country as still being not good enough.

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.