Politicians Charged Over Journalists’ Murders

Two local politicians in the Philippines have had murder charges filed against them in relation to the separate killings of two radio news reporters, in a series of incidents highlighting the dangers confronting journalists working in the country.

Desadario Camangyan, who worked for Sunshine FM Radio, and Jovelito Agustin, of DZJC Aksyon Radyo, were killed within a day of each other last week. Both reporters were well-known for having expressed outspoken views about local politics in the south and north of the Philippines respectively. A third death occurred on Saturday, with the shooting murder of Nestor Bedolido, a newspaper reporter.

A national police spokeperson, Leonardo Espina Espina, said last night that police had filed murder charges against several individuals in relation to the murders, including a village head and a vice-mayor. None of the suspects against whom charges have been filed have yet been apprehended.

“Murder charges had been filed against them based on the strength of testimonies from several witnesses,” he said.

Charges over Camangyan’s shooting death on 14 June have been filed against Romeo Antoling, a village head in the southern province of Davao Oriental, and Dennis Jess Lumikid, a police officer. The Philippine Star reports that according to the police officer in charge of the Camangyan investigation, the murder is believed to have had “something to do with politics, and illegal logging, which had been the subject of Camangyan’s criticism”.

Agustin was murdered the following day; police have filed charges against Pacifico Velasco, the vice-mayor of a town in the northern province of Ilocos Norte, as well as his bodyguard Leonardo Banaag, who is believed to have been the gunman in Agustin’s death.

Three individuals have also been linked to the murder of Bedolido in Davao del Sur province on Saturday, which observers say may also have been politically motivated.

Press monitor organisations in and outside the Philippines expressed deep concern at the developments, but praised the efforts of investigators in pursuing the cases. The director of the International Press Institute (IPI), David Dadge, stated:

“These investigations and charges are very welcome in a country now infamous for the impunity enjoyed by the murderers of journalists, but this is not enough.

“Those responsible for the killings of these three journalists – and the many more who have been killed in the Philippines in recent years – need to be arrested and tried in a court of law.”

The Philippines is notoriously dangerous for journalists, and was last year found by IPI to be the deadliest place for the press in the world; 38 of the 110 reported journalist deaths worldwide were recorded in the country. The Philippine Star says that more than 100 journalists have now been killed during President Gloria Arroyo‘s time in office.

As previously reported in TSR, scores of journalists were abducted and killed last November in the province of Maguindanao, in a massacre described as an “incomprehensible bloodbath” and the single deadliest event involving journalists ever documented by press monitor organisations. At least 34 journalists are now believed to have been killed in the slaughter.

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