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NUJP, PTFOMS back OSG to have ex-Palawan governor rearrested

Mario Joel Reyes and brother are alleged masterminds in the murder of broadcaster Gerry Ortega in 2011

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) renewed its call for justice for slain Palawan broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega as the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) urged the Supreme Court (SC) to have former Palawan governor Mario Joel Reyes rearrested as alleged mastermind in the murder case.

The media union said it also supports Reyes’ continued trial in the 11 year case.

“We welcome moves by the Office of the Solicitor General and the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS) to have him (Reyes) rearrested,” the NUJP said.

In a formal motion earlier this month, the OSG has argued that “essential requisites” are absent in the High Court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order that allowed Reyes to leave jail.

“There is now a finding of strong evidence of petitioner’s guilt, there is no invasion, much less a material and substantial invasion of [his] right should he be ordered re-arrested,” the OSG argued.

NUJP said a murder suspect like Reyes who can that evade arrest and go about his political business can influence the case.

“[W]hile Reyes may be within his rights to run for office, it is likely that he does not have the right to do it outside of government custody,” the group said.

NUJP added that Reyes’ temporary freedom may only embolden those who seek to silence the critical press and put the entire media community at greater risk.

PTFOMS supports OSG petition

The Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS) also said it “fully backs and supports” OSG’s move for the lifting of the SC’s March 23, 2022 TRO favoring the alleged mastermind.

“We believe that the evidence of guilt is strong in the criminal case filed against Reyes in connection with the slaying of Gerry Ortega,” PTFOMS executive director and Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco said in an April 27 statement.

PTFOMS pointed out that Reyes was tagged by his former bodyguard Rodolfo Edrad as the mastermind behind the killing of Ortega, who had criticized the former governor for the supposed destruction of the environment in the province.

Also implicated in the killing is his brother, former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes. The two are running for governor and mayor, respectively, in the May 9 elections.

Earlier, Egco also supported OSG’s investigation into the 2018 Court of Appeals decision to release Reyes from detention due to alleged insufficiency of evidence in the murder case.

In 2019, the CA reinstated the murder charges against the former Palawan governor.

Ortega family to press for justice

In a statement issued during a press conference on Wednesday, Ortega’s widow Patty said their family believes the slain broadcaster will still be given justice.

“I believe there is justice. I believe that the Supreme Court will do what is right so justice will prevail,” she said.

Patty said she is grateful to the NUJP, PTFOMs and other groups who have continuously offered support for their quest for justice for her slain husband. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP demands arrest of media killing ‘mastermind’

Joel Reyes campaigning to reclaim Palawan governorship despite arrest warrant

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) called for the arrest of former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, alleged mastermind in the killing of Palawan broadcaster Gerry Ortega in 2011.

In a statement on Ortega’s 11th death anniversary on Monday, January 24, the NUJP said former Palawan governor Joel Reyes is campaigning to reclaim the top provincial post even as he remains a fugitive from law.

“[N]ot only is former governor Joel Reyes evading his warrant of arrest for Ortega’s killing, he is running for Palawan governor, according to news reports, and is campaigning while a subject of a manhunt,” the media group said.

Reyes and brother and former Coron mayor Mario fled the country in 2012 to evade arrest related to Ortega’s murder.

Both were arrested in Phuket, Thailand in September 2015 but were freed by the Court of Appeals (CA) in January 2018.

The appellate court however reversed itself and ordered the Regional Trial Court in Puerto Princesa to “issue a warrant of arrest against the petitioner (Joel) and to conduct proceedings in Criminal Case No. 26839 with purposeful dispatch” in November 2019.

“What is clear is that due to a Court of Appeals directive in 2019, the Regional Trial Court of Puerto Princesa had released an arrest warrant against him for [the] murder [of Ortega],” NUJP said.

Reyes is also facing separate graft charges over the alleged misuse of P1.5 billion in Malampaya funds.

Ortega, an environmentalist and known critic of the Reyeses, was the first media killing under the then Benigno Aquino government.

The broadcaster was shot in broad daylight in downtown Puerto Princesa City after leaving radio station DWAR.

The NUJP said the lack of justice over Ortega’s murder and Reyes’ bid for the governorship despite a graft conviction add to the impunity that has surrounded attacks against journalists as well as land and rights defenders.

READ: NUJP: Where is justice in Doc Gerry’s killing?

The group added the lack of justice in Ortega’s killing is emblematic of the culture of impunity in the Philippines, reminding them how the powerful seem to make a mockery of the justice system.

“We stand with the Ortega family, Doc Gerry’s colleagues and friends in the environmental movement and colleagues in the media in calling for justice and in demanding the service of the arrest warrant against Reyes,” NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Gunmen attack broadcaster; media group demands probe

Another broadcaster was shot in Cebu City on Thursday, five days after Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa told the world about attacks against journalists in the Philippines.

Rico Osmeña of Cebu radio station dyLA was shot by two unidentified riding-in-tandem gunmen aboard a bus and was injured with another passenger at around 1 pm last December 16.

Both victims survived and are recuperating from their injuries.

Osmeña just finished his radio program when the attack happened.

Osmeña is also a correspondent for The Daily Tribune.

The Cebu chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the incident and called for a swift and impartial investigation.

“Osmeña’s shooting happened proximate to the upcoming election period – a period in our country perennially marred by violence and extrajudicial attempts to stifle media,” the group said.

NUJP Cebu noted that Visayas media had been victims of a series of attacks, recalling the assassination of DyRB radio commentator Rey Cortes last July, also in Cebu City.

“The reports of attacks on our colleagues in the Visayas are a result of the culture of impunity that prevails in our country. It is a culture that affirms the killings are a valid way to forward an agenda,” the group said.

The media security task force of the government also denounced the attack, adding it has already asked the regional police to find and apprehend the perpetrators.

Presidential Task Force on Media Security executive director Joel Sy Egco said it is too early to determine the motive behind the attack but said they presume it is work-related as a matter of policy.

Egco acknowledged that the election period may see more threats and violence against media workers.

In her speech in Oslo, Ressa called attention to the plight of journalist and broadcaster Frenchie Mae Quimpio who had been in jail for more than two years and the murder of Central Luzon-based journalist Jesus Santiago earlier this month.

The NUJP said at least 21 journalists have been killed under the Rodrigo Duterte government. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NDF-Bikol: Radio station closure an attack on press freedom

The National Democratic Front in Bikol (NDF-Bikol) said the recent closure of a radio station in Legazpi City is another suppression of press freedom in a region that has seen one of the biggest numbers of media killings and attacks in recent years.

In a statement, NDF-Bikol spokesperson Ma. Roja Banua said Radyo Zagitsit DWH1 100.3 News FM’s forced closure is a “brazen attempt to limit the avenues for the Bikolano masses’ voices.”

Banua said the closure is connected with the coming 2022 elections.

The NDF spokesperson in the region said the radio station had existed in six years as “a platform for the masses and ordinary Bikolanos’ demands,” bewailing that the incident also deprived its workers their means of living amidst a pandemic.

‘Politically motivated’

NDF-Bikol’s statement agrees with Zagitsit FM’s claims the closure order issued by the regional office of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) was “politically motivated.”

Radio station manager Hermogenes “Jun” Alegre said they were ordered to cease operations last November 8, several days before the expiration of their extended permit today, November 19.

Alegre blamed Rodrigo Duterte ally and Ako Bikol Rep. Alfredo Garbin for the forced closure, alleging Garbin has influenced the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, of which the lawmaker is a member.

Alegre said that the Committee has pressured the NTC to issue the closure order against his radio station.

In news reports, Alegre revealed that Garbin’s own station Radyo Oragon violates broadcasting laws by using repeaters to cover the entire Bikol Region.

Garbin has denied involvement, saying the closure order is purely an application of law.

Alegre and Garbin are both candidates for different local government positions and are allied with opposing political forces in Albay province.

Press freedom issue

NDF-Bikol said the closure is part of the worsening state suppression of press freedom, citing other cases of attacks on press freedom in the region.

“This is no different from the innumerable cases of threats and harassment that other media practitioners in the region constantly experience,” Banua said.

NDF-Bikol cited Camarines Norte Gov. Edgar Tallado’s filing libel and cyber-libel charges against journalists Virgilio Avila Jr., Nolito Banaria, Irene Cambronero, Mia Concordia, Rommel Ibasco Fenix, Bernie Patiag and Deo Trinidad in 2020.

It added that charges were also filed against broadcasters Ramil Soliveres and Jing Rima in Catanduanes while Albay-based alternative news site Baretang Bikolnon repeatedly suffered intimidation from the military and police.

“Worse, it has become commonplace for politicians and the AFP-PNP-CAFGU (Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine National Police-Civilian Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit) in Bikol to openly kill media practitioners who stand for truth and fearlessly expose crimes and anomalies that influential personalities, businessmen and government agencies are involved with,” Banua said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines reports four Bikol journalists have been killed since July 2016, including the first two cases of media killings in the country under the Rodrigo Duterte government : Larry Que and Joey llana.

Two of the more recent incidents are the killings of Jobert ‘Pulpog’ Bercasio last September 15, 2020 in Sorsogon and Pastor Ronnie Villamor of DYME last November 14, 2020 in Brgy. Matanglad, Milagros, Masbate.

NDF-Bikol said Bercasio was killed by two motorcycle-riding assassins who were seen by witnesses to have retreated to a nearby military detachment after the shooting.  

Villamor, meanwhile, along with land surveyors he was with during the incident, were alleged to be members of the New People’s Army by the military after killing them.

“In both cases, investigations have not prospered and military elements are yet to be punished even though the lies used to cover up the crimes were already publicly exposed,” NDF-Bikol said.

The group called on Bikolanos to support the embattled Zagitsit FM and the “journalists’ battle against state attacks.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Sorsogon media slams PNP for ‘comical’ allegations on broadcaster’s death

Journalists in Sorsogon expressed dismay and disbelief over police claims it was the New People’s Army (NPA) that killed a former radio reporter on September 14 last year.

In a statement, the Sorsogon media condemned allegations made by Sorsogon City police chief Lt. Col. Benito Dipad and Sorsogon provincial police head Col. Arturo Brual that two NPA members killed broadcaster Jobert Bercasio.

The journalists said the police press conference last January 21 failed to merit praises and jubilation from the victim’s family and friends as it lacked credibility and plausibility and was even comical.

“That the police relied on a ‘walk-in’ witness who was not even sure of his role in the conspiracy should be a cause for concern on the credibility of the case,” the statement said.

The journalists expressed further incredulity when Dipad said the victim may have been suspected by the NPA as a government informer.

“Obviously, the police have failed, again, to check, despite its constant stalking, that as early as September 20 of last year, the regional spokesperson of the National Democratic Front-Bicol, Maria Roja Banua, had already made a statement that refutes such theory,” the journalists said.

The reporters revealed that the NPA had been a convenient escape for the PNP to attribute crimes to the NPA whenever they fail to solve them.

“[W]hen police attribute(s) a crime to the NPAs, it’s tantamount to saying they could not solve the case. It’s a subtle admission of utter failure,” they added.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said it shares the dismay and incredulity of its Sorsogon colleagues.

“We commend our Sorsogon colleagues and are one with them in insisting that the investigation into Jobert Bercasio’s murder be credible because what he deserves – as do all of our fallen colleagues – is justice, not made into a pawn for anyone’s agenda or the subject of cheap propaganda,” the NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP: Where is justice in Doc Gerry’s killing?

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) bewailed the lack of justice for the killing of a broadcaster in Palawan exactly a decade ago.

In a statement, the media group urged the Court of Appeals to conduct proceedings to prosecute the accused in the killing of journalist, environmentalist and good governance advocate Gerardo “Doc Gerry” Ortega on January 24, 2011.

Ortega was shot dead by a gunman at a thrift store he visited after hosting his program “Ramatak” on the Puerto Princesa City radio station dwAR-FM.

He was the first journalist killed under the Benigno Aquino presidency.

The gunman was almost immediately caught, followed quickly by other members of the hit team, all of whom named those who allegedly ordered the hit – former Palawan governor Joel Reyes and his brother Mario, then the Coron mayor, as well as other accomplices.

Most of the accused have since been convicted, except the Reyes brothers who fled the country in March 2012.

They were arrested in Thailand in September 2015 and deported back to the Philippines.

Joel Reyes was ordered freed by the Court of Appeals on January 2018 but he was rearrested and jailed in Camp Bagong Diwa after his conviction for graft by the Sandiganbayan.

In November 2019 the appellate court reversed its January 2018 decision and ordered the resumption of the Ortega murder trial.

The NUJP noted that trials for the murder of journalists are unusually long in the Philippines, itself a form of injustice to the victims and their families.

“[I]t took a decade for a verdict to be handed down on those accused of carrying out the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre, which claimed the lives of 58 persons, 32 of them journalists. And even then, the legal process is far from over with appeals filed and scores of other suspects still at large,” the group said.

The NUJP said the families endure the protracted process and the dangers of harassments and threats from the masterminds.

“It is a testament to their courage that neither the families of the massacre victims nor of Doc Gerry have wavered in their search for justice, despite the many dangers and obstacles placed in their way,” the NUJP said.

“[B]y any standards, a decade without justice is clearly justice too long denied for Doc Gerry, his wife Patty, and their children. We urge the trial court to take to heart the CA’s order to conduct proceedings in criminal case No. 26839 with purposeful dispatch,” the group added.

In a Facebook post, Ortega’s son Joaquin Philippe said their family has already learned to live without their father but the late broadcaster and his battle against corruption and greed are still remembered.

“That battle is far from over. I don’t believe justice is a myth, but I believe our society’s current systems need to change,” the young Ortega wrote. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Philippine Army soldiers kill journalist in Masbate

MANILA — A journalist was shot and killed by government soldiers in Milagros, Masbate, last Saturday, November 14.

Ronnie Villamor, 50, a stringer for local tabloid Dos Kantos Balita was killed by troops led by a certain 2nd Lieutenant Maydim Jomadil after covering an aborted survey of a disputed property.

Villamor was also a pastor of the Life in Christ Church.

A spot report on the incident by Milagros police chief Major Aldrin Rosales quoted army troops as saying they were investigating the presence of five armed men in Barangat Matanglad who fled at their approach.

The army and the police said Villamor was a New People’s Army (NPA) member who allegedly drew a firearm when ordered to stop his motorcycle at a Scout Platoon-2nd Infantry Battalion Philippine Army checkpoint.

The victim’s colleagues however disputed the soldiers’ version of the incident, saying there was no encounter between the government soldiers and the NPA.

Masbate Tri-Media President Dadong Briones Sr. told Dos Kantos Balita the victim just came from a coverage of an aborted survey of a piece of land being disputed by certain Dimen family and businessman Randy Favis.

Favis’s goons reportedly prevented the survey from proceeding, prompting the surveyors to return to mainland Bicol and the victim to proceed to his brother Arthur’s house at Barangay Bonbon.

Dos Kantos Balita reported that witnesses saw army troopers flagging down the victim and, after being identified by Favis’s men Johnrey Floresta and Eric Desilva, shot Villamor dead.

In a statement, the Masbate chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the killing of their colleague and demands a thorough investigation of the incident.

“The killing of our colleague…at the hands of government soldiers sends a chilling message to us journalists not only here in Masbate but all throughout the country,” the victims’ colleagues said.

Villamor is the fourth journalist murdered in Masbate after Joaquin Briones (March 13, 2017), Antonio Castillo (June 12, 2009), and Nelson Nedura (December 2, 2003), the NUJP said.

“He (Villamor) is the 19th slain during the Duterte administration and the 191st since 1986. He was also the second killed this month, only four days after NUJP member Virgilio Maganes, who had survived an attempt on his life in 2016, was shot dead outside his home in Villasis town, Pangasinan,” the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Gunmen shoot Pangasinan reporter dead

A journalist who survived an assassination attempt in November 2016 was shot dead at his home in Villasis, Pangasinan this morning, November 10.

Virgilio “Vir” Maganes, a reporter of local newspaper Northern Watch and commentator of local radio station DWPR, was shot at 6:30 AM in front of his residence at Sitio Licsab, Barangay San Blas.

A police spot report said Maganes was about to enter their residential compound when the killers fired at him six times, killing him immediately.

Maganes was hit on the head and other parts of the body.

In 2016, Maganes survived a gun attack while on board a tricycle and was wounded on his torso.

He played dead as the tricycle careened on the side of the road but saw his assailant put a hand-written placard near him accusing him of being a drug personality.

The placard read: “Drug pusher huwag pamarisan”, in what the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said may be seen as an attempt to divert attention from the real motive for the slay try.

Maganes denied ever being involved in illegal drugs.

The victim was a known critic of local politicians he accused in his reports and radio programs of being illegal gambling operators.

In its alert, the NUJP said Maganes would be the 18th journalist murdered during the Rodrigo Duterte administration and the 190th since 1986.

The Presidential Task Force on Media Security told Kodao that it has dispatched investigators to Pangasinan to look into Maganes’ killing.

The victim turned 62 years old last November 7. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP presses for justice on Gerry Ortega’s 9th death anniv

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) renewed its call for justice for broadcaster Gerry Ortega in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan on the ninth anniversary of his killing.

In a statement, the NUJP said it calls on the courts to resume trials against alleged masterminds in Ortega’s murders after the Court of Appeals (CA) reversed a 2018 ruling clearing former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, the primary suspect.

The group said the CA  ordered the Regional Trial Court in Puerto Princesa to “issue a warrant of arrest against the petitioner (Reyes) and to conduct proceedings in criminal case No. 26839 with purposeful dispatch” last November.

“Today, as we remember Doc Gerry, we call on the courts to let the wheels of justice finally turn, but not turn slowly,” the group said.

Hopes that the alleged brains behind Ortega’s murder would be held accountable had been dashed when co-accused former Coron, Palawan mayor Mario Reyes was granted bail in 2016 and his brother Joel was cleared of the murder charge and freed by the Court of Appeals in January 2018.

The former governor was back behind bars however after he was convicted of graft by the Sandiganbayan three weeks later.

The NUJP expressed optimism in a conviction as the gunman and all the members of the hit team were arrested, prosecuted, and convicted.

“In a rare instance, the hired killers named the alleged masterminds, who fled the country in 2012 soon after arrest warrants were issued against them but were captured in Thailand three years after and brought back to stand trial,” the NUJP said.

Ortega—also an environmentalist, public servant, good governance advocate and civic leader—had just finished hosting his program on radio station DWAR when shot dead.

The NUJP also noted that the victim’s family never wavered in their struggle for justice, adding it can do no less.

The NUJP is set to light candles for Ortega at the Sgt. Esguerra gate of ABS-CBN tonight, January 24, as it also calls for the renewal of the media company’s legislative franchise President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to block at the House of Representatives. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

December 19 and the quest for justice

ON DECEMBER 19, the day set by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 for the promulgation of its much-awaited verdict on the Ampatuan massacre, it will be 10 years and 25 days since the killings occurred in Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.

Let that sink in: a decade of injustice. Ten years since 58 men and women, of whom 32 were journalists and media workers, were brutally killed in the worst election-related violence in the Philippines and the worst attack on journalists in history. These are millions of moments when swift decisive justice could have been served on the alleged perpetrators of the crime and its masterminds.

On December 19, the Filipino public expects nothing less than a conviction from Quezon City RTC Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes. But the Ampatuan case is one more indication of the fact that in the Philippines, a verdict in the lower courts even on a patently heinous crime will take at least a decade. It proves that impunity thrives for the powerful, while for the victims of crimes such as the Ampatuan massacre, a decade can pass without attaining justice.

A decade has indeed passed but the conditions that led to the Ampatuan massacre remain: political dynasties and patronage are still alive, paramilitary groups have not been dismantled, and the Ampatuans’ collusion with the administration — Arroyo then and Duterte now — still persists.

But in this climate when attacks against free expression and the press escalate relentlessly – from the killings of journalists to illegal arrests to online attacks – we should remain undaunted. Despite the stark lesson on how elusive justice is from the Ampatuan massacre case, journalists, activists, and advocates must not only soldier on, but also up the ante in the fight to shatter the culture of impunity that has enveloped the nation.

A conviction of the Ampatuans would be considered an initial victory against impunity. An acquittal, on the other hand, would spell death to press freedom.

December 19 will not only underscore how elusive justice is in our country. It should also be a time for all of us to renew our commitment to continue fighting for it no matter the cost, and no matter how long.

On December 19, let us express our solidarity with the families of the Ampatuan massacre victims and register our resounding call: Justice for the 58 massacre victims. End Impunity. Convict the Ampatuans.

* Pooled editorial of the members of the AlterMidya Network, a national organization of independent media outfits in the Philippines.