Senator wants probe into media killings

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Friday, December 13, 2013

MANILA (Updated) -- Senator Aquilino Pimentel III condemned Friday the unceasing attacks against journalists, saying the culture of impunity against the media has worsened after three deaths in the last 12 days.

Pimentel said he will call for an immediate Senate investigation on the spate of media killings, counting as its latest victim radio commentator Rolegio Butalid, who was cut down by bullets after stepping out of a radio station in Tagum City on Wednesday.

The daylight murder came just less than a week after another radio commentator, Michael Milo, in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur, and Joas Dignos, in Valencia City, Bukidnon were also ambushed by unknown assailants.

Pimentel said the non-stop killings of known media personalities are obviously work-related, noting that the victims are popular among their listeners because of their exposes against corruption and other illegal activities in their areas.

He said that another radio reporter, Jonavin Villalba of Iloilo City, survived an attack when he was fired upon by unidentified men while opening the gate of his house in Jaro district. Vilalba was wounded in the right ankle and left foot.

Pimentel called on police authorities to step up their campaign against criminals, even as he urged them to work extra hard to arrest the suspects and find out the real masterminds behind the series of killings in Mindanao.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) earlier said it did not see any common pattern among the killings.

Three Special Investigation Task Groups (SITG) composed of crime investigators backed by forensic examiners, legal team, intelligence support, and local police are looking into the incidents.

The Northern Mindanao police have already filed a murder case against a suspect and several John Does in Dignos' killing. The suspect, who remains at large, was identified through a computerized facial composite provided by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) based on descriptions given by a key witness.

NBI Deputy Director for Regional Services Virgilio Mendez said Dignos' killer is a prisoner who bolted the Valencia City Jail. He said Dignos could have been killed due to his hard-hitting political commentaries.

The group investigating Milo's death initially ruled out the killing as work-related in light of other possible motives, such as his strained relationship with his estranged wife and in-laws.

The PNP said Milo’s radio station Prime FM is not engaged in political criticism but in promotion of alternative natural healing products. Police are also checking reports that he figured in a fight with another person last month.

Another SITG looking into the slaying of Butalid already came up with an artist's sketch of the gunman based on descriptions provided by a witness.

Since 1992, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that 72 journalists were killed, ranking the Philippines as the third worst in its impunity index of countries that failed to minimize violence against the media. (Camille P. Balagtas/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)

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