Case Files: The 12 Journalists Killed
Under the Duterte Administration

Penzer Baterna, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR)

1. Surigao broadcaster first killed under Duterte administration

JUST two weeks after President Rodrigo R. Duterte assumed office on June 30, 2016, newly-elected Surigao provincial board member and broadcaster Apolinario Suan Jr. became the first journalist to be murdered under his administration.

Suan, a radio anchor at Real FM station in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur, was on his way home from the radio station when men aboard a van attacked him along the national highway in Sitio Tandawan, Barangay San Vicente, Bislig City on July 14, 2016 at around 2 in the afternoon.

He was critically wounded during the attack, while his brother and escort, Dodong Suan, died on the spot. Two other escorts of Suan were also injured.

Suan slipped into a coma and died two weeks later on July 28, 2016.

In a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Bislig City police director Supt. Rainier Diaz said Suan’s killing may be connected to his work as a broadcaster.

A friend* of Suan told the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines the broadcaster had hurled hard-hitting commentaries against Bislig City Mayor Librado Navarro even before he was elected as board member of the province. Suan had also received death threats before he was killed, the source said. *Name withheld for security purposes

2. Catanduanes newspaper publisher slain

LARRY QUE publisher and columnist of the community paper Catanduanes News Now, was the second journalist killed under the Duterte administration. Que was shot dead by motorcycle-riding men as he was entering his office in Virac around 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 19, 2016.

Shortly before he died, Que had written a column accusing local officials of negligence following the discovery of a major drug manufacturing facility in the province.

On May 2, 2017, Que’s partner, Edralyn Pangilinan, filed a murder complaint with the Department of Justice in Manila against Catanduanes Governor Joseph Cua, police officer Vincent Tacorda, Cua’s aide Prince Lim Subion and several “John Does”.

Tacorda has reportedly admitted that he had been ordered allegedly by Cua as relayed by Subion, to kill Que in the guise of the police’s anti-drug “Operation Tokhang”. Subion had reportedly been sending death threats to Que before the latter’s murder.

A colleague and close friend of Que, Marlon Suplig, said that aside from the murder charge, Tacorda is also facing robbery and extortion charges because he allegedly asked the slain publisher’s family for P10 million in exchange for evidence in the case.

Despite the charges, Tacorda remained in active service a year after the killing.

A year since the complaint against Cua and the other suspects was filed, Que’s family is still waiting for the Department of Justice’s resolution.

3. Broadcaster-university professor killed in Ilocos Sur

NORTHERN LUZON lost its first journalist under the Duterte administration when Mario Contaoi was shot dead by motorcycle-riding gunmen on the national highway in Barangay San Ramon, Magsingal town, Ilocos Sur evening of Jan. 7, 2017.

Aside from working at Catholic church-owned radio station dzNS, Contaoi was also a professor at University of Northern Philippines.

Provincial police director Senior Superintendent Rey de Peralta was quoted in a news report as saying that Contaoi’s work as a journalist was not likely a reason for the broadcaster’s murder. To date, however, the authorities have yet to determine the motive for the killing. The victim’s wife has said that her husband had no known enemies.

But the environmental advocacy group KALIKASAN PNE believes Contaoi’s commentaries against the destruction of the environment and the militarization of communities opposed to mining led to his killing.

4. Blocktime radio anchor shot dead in Kidapawan City

MARLON MUYCO, who hosted a blocktime program over dxND Radyo Bida in Kidapawan City, Cotabato province, was shot dead by motorcycle-riding men in Barangay La Suerte, M’lang town, afternoon of Feb. 2, 2017.

His daughter, who was with Muyco at the time, was wounded in the attack.

Police investigators said the killers had been tailing the host of the program “Abyan sa Kalambuansa Banwa Sang M’lang (Your Friend in the Development of M’lang Town)” and struck when the victims reached a secluded area.

The authorities have identified one of the suspects as Boyet Patubo, who they described to be a “gun-for-hire.” They said Patubo was seen fleeing toward Antipas town where his brother is a barangay chairman.

The police have yet to ascertain the motive for Muyco’s murder.

5. Hard-hitting Masbate columnist gunned down

REMATE columnist Joaquin Briones, who had also worked as a commentator of station dyME, was gunned down by motorcycle-riding men as he was heading home around 8:45 a.m. on March 13, 2017 on Bombom Bridge, sitio Feeder Road, Barangay Bacolod, Milagros town.

A news report quoted Inspector Anselmo Prima of the Milagros police as saying that the likely motive for the murder was either local politics or personal grudges.

But the same story quoted Remate managing editor Lydia Buena as saying the killing was likely triggered by Briones’s hard-hitting reports on sensitive topics like illegal fishing, illegal gambling, and the drug trade. Briones had been receiving death threats before he was killed.

Leonardo del Rosario, aka Pandoy, a suspect in the Briones murder was himself killed along with his father and another companion when the police tried to arrest them. Del Rosario allegedly led a crime gang in Masbate.

Journalists in Masbate have described Briones’s case as an extrajudicial killing. However, the Briones family has yet to file charges against the suspects.

Briones’ daughter* says her father might have survived his injuries if responding policemen had immediately taken him to a hospital. Massive blood loss and not injury from gunshots was the reported cause of death.

She claims her father was taken around the town plaza and allegedly shown to townsfolk by the police before Briones was brought to the hospital. *Name withheld for security purposes

6. Broadcaster shot dead in Zamboanga del Sur

RUDY ALICAWAY, 47, was on his way home on Aug. 6, 2017 after hosting his weekly community affairs program “Tigmo-tigmo” over radio station dxPB when motorcycle-riding men shot him dead in Sitio Lopez, Barangay Culo, Molave town in Zamboanga del Sur. He was the first journalist to be killed after President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017.

Station manager Rocel Navarro said Alicaway never tackled controversial issues.

Aside from hosting his program, Alicaway was a councilor of Barangay Miligan in Molave.

The motive for his murder remains undetermined to date.

7. Sultan Kudarat native second Mindanao journalist slain since martial law

ON AUGUST 7, 2017, Leodoro Diaz, 60, of President Quirino town in Sultan Kudarat province became the second Mindanao journalist to be murdered after the declaration of martial law in the southern island.

Diaz, a reporter of RMN’s Cotabato City station dxMY and columnist of the tabloid Sapol, was heading to Tacurong City from his home when he was ambushed by motorcycle-riding gunmen.

Before the incident, he had received death threats and been harassed by armed men at his home in Barangay Katiku, President Quirino.

Diaz’s daughter* believes he was killed because of his hard-hitting columns on corruption, illegal gambling, and the drug trade in his hometown even if he had seldom, if ever, identified the subjects of his criticism.

Before his death, Diaz had reportedly informed colleagues he was writing about illegal drugs.

His daughter dismisses observations that Diaz might have been killed because he planned to enter politics. She said that was just a “joke.”

Murder charges have since been filed against a suspect, “Toto” Tamano, who remains at large. *Name withheld for security purposes

8. Radioman shot dead day after Ombudsman ousts Bislig Mayor

CHRISTOPHER LOZADA, 29, a program host at station dxBF of Prime Broadcasting Network, was involved in the filing of charges against Bislig City Mayor Librado Navarro over the questionable purchase of a P14.7-million hydraulic excavator in 2012.

On Oct. 23, 2017, the Office of the Ombudsman ordered Navarro and 11 others dismissed from the service over the alleged anomaly.

Around 9 p.m. the next day, Lozada was driving home when gunmen in a van opened fire, killing him. His common-law wife, Honey Faith Indog, was wounded in the attack.

According to his sister*, before his murder, Lozada had been receiving a series of death threats sent from an unknown number. One of the texts said: “95 days ka na lang, umalis ka na rito sa Bislig kundi papatayin kita (You have 95 days left. Leave Bislig or I will kill you).”

She said the Diaz family has not been able to file charges against the suspected killers, Rolly Mahilum and Felixberto Villocino, and Navarro. The family has accused Navarro of ordering Lozada’s death because the former mayor is reportedly monitoring them.

The principal witness, Lozada’s partner Honey Faith, has been enrolled in the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice but her family reportedly lives in fear because Navarro is keeping an eye on them.

Before the Ombudsman resolution dismissing him, Navarro allegedly offered a car and a P50,000 monthly allowance to Lozada to make him withdraw the case but the broadcaster refused, saying: “Kahit mahirap po kami, ayaw kong magkaroon ng ganyang kalaking pera kung galing naman sa masama (Even if we are poor, I do not want to earn that much money from wrongdoing).”

Lozada was insistent about filing charges against Navarro. “Kahit ikamatay ko pa, gagawin ko ang dapat (Even if it costs my life, I will do what is right).” *Name withheld for security purposes

9. Dumaguete broadcaster declared dead after gun attack

BROADCASTER EDMUND SESTOSO, former chairman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines chapter in Dumaguete City, was shot by motorcycle-riding gunmen late in the morning of April 30, 2018 and died the afternoon of the next day, May 1.

Sestoso was on his way home to Barangay Daro after hosting his daily program “Tug-anan” over dyGB 91.7 FM when he was attacked.

Hit five times, Sestoso was rushed to the Siliman University Medical Center where he underwent surgery.

A friend* who had been assisting the journalist’s family said Sestoso had texted a relative hours before the incident saying someone was out to kill him.

Sestoso’s wife Lourdes also told his colleagues he had been receiving death threats but had refused to discuss these with her.

The authorities have yet to determine the motive behind Sestoso’s murder. *Name withheld for security purposes

10. Family of Zamboanga broadcaster urges authorities to get brains in killing

THE FAMILY of murdered Zamboanga del Sur broadcaster Carlos Matas has asked authorities to conduct a thorough investigation to unmask the mastermind who ordered his death.

Matas, 61, a retired soldier who hosted the local program Zamboanga News Patrol on station dxCA, was gunned down as he was visiting Barangay Nuburan in Labangan town around 2 p.m. on May 12.

His daughter, Maricar Matas-Pellina, said her father had joined media after retiring from the Army in 2013, and tackled issues such as illegal drugs and gambling, corruption, and the harassment of farmers. The latter had often visited Matas’s program to air their concerns.

More than this, Pellina said: “Hindi lang si Papa puro salita sa radio, pumupunta talaga siya sa mga barangay para tumulong sa mga tao. Kahit ‘yung pension niya ginagamit niya para makatulong sa mga nangangailangan (Papa did not only talk over the radio, he really visited the villages to help people. He would even use his own pension to help those in need).”

She admitted her family members became afraid when Matas joined radio, as they were aware of how risky the work could be.

“‘Yung pinalitan nga niya sa programa niya na si Rolly Cañete ay pinagbabaril sa Cawil District, Pagadian City at namatay din (The person he replaced on the program, Rolly Cañete, was also shot in Cawit District, Pagadian City and died.)”

Four days before he was killed, Matas was ambushed on his way back from a visit to Langapad, also in Labangan. He reported the incident to the police and tackled it on his program on May 12, before the killers eventually got him.

The police said three suspects in the Matas murder — Butchoy Abdul, Bakar Inok and Zalik Tabina — were killed in subsequent hot-pursuit operations while a fourth, Arnaiz Alam, had been wounded and captured.

However, Matas’ family refuses to accept the police declaration that, with the death or capture of the suspects, the case may be considered closed.

“Sigurado akong mga hired killers lang sila at merong utak sa kabila nito (I am sure they are only hired killers),” Pellina said. “Hindi rin ako naniniwala na may kamag-anak ng isang gunman na napatay ang Papa ko. Hindi totoo iyon (I also do not believe that Papa supposedly killed a relative of one of the gunmen. That isn’t true).”

11. Davao del Norte publisher killed in ambush

A PUBLISHER and writer of Trends and Times based in Panabo City, Davao del Norte, was killed in an ambush by an identified armed men on June 7, 2018 at around 1pm.

Denora had attended a meeting of Davao Multimedia Group in Tagum City before he passed along Panabo Market where he was attacked. His driver was injured in the incident.

Davao del Norte Representative Antonio Floirendo Jr. had said he believes that Denora’s murder was related to the publisher’s exposes in his newspaper.

Panabo City Police said that the victim was unarmed when he was attacked and that they have no record that he had carried any firearms.

Prior to the attack there has been no report of any threats against the 67-year old journalist.

12. Radio announcer killed in Bicol

A hard-hitting radio broadcaster was shot dead by five unidentified armed men at around 5 in the morning on July 20, 2018 while he was on his way to the radio station along Barangay Penafrancia, Daraga town.

Joey Llana was driving his car to 92.3 FM Home Radio Legazpi when he was ambushed.

The victim suffered sustained head and body injuries from gunshots, according to local authorities.

Llana’s family said the broadcaster had received death threats since last year from unknown persons but that Lalana did not take these seriously.

Llana was the 3rd journalist in the Bicol Region who had been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte came to office. The two others were Larry Que of Catanduanes and Joaquin Briones of Masbate.

Early on in the Bicol Region, commentator Jun Villanueva of DZGB was killed in 2000, followed by Roel Enrinal of DWZR in the same year. — Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network, November 2018