ROMEO OLEA’s daily radio show was all of three months old, but it was known by a timeless catchphrase: “Anything Goes.” Unfortunately, the radio anchor of dwEB-FM, a radio station on the outskirts of Iriga City, worked in a profession where threats to its members can also be described the same way: “anything goes.” Last Monday, Olea became the sixth journalist to be killed since the May 2010 elections.
The available evidence points to a chillingly familiar pattern: Unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle, a broadcast journalist on his way to work, two bullets in his back.
The murder of Olea adds a sad and sorry twist to this fatal scenario: A wife standing at the house gate at 6 a.m., receiving police officers, not knowing that at that point she had already become a widow.
The killing of Olea, whom Malacañang immediately hailed as a “crusading journalist,” was the second time a radio personality of dwEB-FM was gunned down. Miguel Belen, a commentator, was shot by unidentified men on motorcycles on his way to work in July last year; he died a month later. But 10 months on, no one has yet been arrested for the crime. How long will it take, we wonder, before arrests will be made in connection with Olea’s death? And how long before the suspects are actually sent to prison?
The recent development in the case of Gerry Ortega, the environmental activist and radio broadcaster who was shot dead in Puerto Princesa last January, only adds to the growing uncertainty.
A Department of Justice panel dropped murder charges against former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and five others because the evidence and testimony presented proved “insufficient to establish probable cause.” This is a blow to the campaign to stop the killing of journalists, because the actual shooter was caught immediately after the shooting, and later confessed; if the evidence based on the confession of the actual killer cannot be relied upon, the public will view the exoneration, rightly or wrongly, as proof that the justice system does not work.
That no one thinks the Aquino administration had a hand in the killings is small comfort for Malacañang, because public patience with the murder of journalists is nearing its snapping point. Yes, there is no counter-insurgency plan that legitimizes extrajudicial killings, unlike in the case of the Arroyo administration, when military commanders like Jovito Palparan enjoyed a reputation precisely for “inspiring” such atrocities. Yes, there are no warlords behind the killings, unlike in the case of the Arroyo administration, when protégés like the Ampatuan family presided over provinces where journalists ended up dead and “back-hoed.” And yes, the Department of Justice no longer suffers from a reputation of extreme partiality, unlike in the case of the Arroyo administration, when a partisan Raul Gonzalez couldn’t be trusted to pursue those cases involving politically motivated killings (and disappearances).
But a year into office, the administration ought to do more than just express (genuine) sympathy for the slain and call for swift action from the police. The administration must seize the proverbial bull by the horns.
First, it can implement a “first-strike” policy through the Department of Interior and Local Government; when a journalist is murdered in a particular jurisdiction, the police chief in the area will be immediately removed from office. Such a policy, akin to the one in place to fight jueteng, the illegal numbers game, shows the administration’s deepest resolve, and at the same time commits the entire Philippine National Police to the campaign to stop journalist killings.
Second, it can support a special investigation into the circumstances in Nabua town in particular and Camarines Sur in general, and probe whether local political elites are behind the killing of two radio journalists in 10 months. A resolute stepping-on-toes is called for.
These and other possible initiatives are premised on the role of the media, as envisioned by our own heroes (Jose Rizal et al. argued that a free press was essential in the formation of a nation) and protected by the Constitution: That is, to serve as an independent monitor of the powerful. If journalists continue being killed in the line of work, the service may no longer be met. A distraught Raquel, Olea’s widow, raised the fundamental question: “What will happen if no one will inform the public about anomalies?”
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