Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Democracy is alive and kicking in this country

Another journalist was killed. Long live democracy in the Philippines!

Palawan Journalist Killed
Source: Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Batul's photo courtesy of DYPR Palawan

Barely a month after a receiving death threat, a hard-hitting radio commentator was shot dead last May 22 in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, 586 kilometers south of Manila.

Fernando “Dong” Batul, a radio journalist working in Palawan-based radio station dyPR, was killed early morning by two unidentified gunmen, who shot him repeatedly, just 200 meters away from the station. The gunmen immediately fled aboard a blue motorcycle.

Batul was rushed to the nearest hospital, but was declared dead-on-arrival.

According to Palawan provincial police chief Elpidio de Asis, the gunmen opened fire using 9mm and .45 pistols, hitting Batul twelve times. Initial probe by the local police suggested that the gunmen could be professionally hired assassins.

Batul, 34, was a popular hard-hitting radio commentator in the Palawan Broadcasting Corp-owned DyPR where he had his early morning program “Bastonero.”

Although the motive for the killing has yet to be established, de Asis said that it was likely more work-related than political. He stressed the fact that Batul had made many enemies of people he had criticized in his radio program.

Batul was known to be a severe critic of incumbent Puerto Princesa mayor Edward Hagedorn. His adamant criticisms of the local government, as well as interviews with members of the New People’s Army, a local leftist group, has also earned him the ire of both government and military officials.

Hagedorn immediately denied any involvement in the assassination. Several years ago, the mayor filed several counts of libel cases against Batul when the radio announcer was still with RGMA Super Radyo (Radio).

Although confirming that Batul had been his critic, the mayor offered a bounty of Php500,000 to anyone who could give information on Batul’s killers. He even ordered the police to resolve Batul’s case within 48 hours or face possible dismissal.

A former vice mayor of Puerto Princesa, Batul’s term was cut a year short in 2003 after an electoral protest ruled in favor of rival Lucilo Bayron. He ran again in 2004, but lost to incumbent Bayron.

Batul had initially raised an alarm last 24 April after discovering two live grenades inside his house. Fortunately, local police were immediately able to detonate the bombs before they could explode. A death threat penned in red ink was also found in front of the Batul’s residence, warning the broadcaster to “hold his tongue, or his family would suffer harsh consequences.”

Prior to that attack, Batul had been commentating on the plight of several overseas Filipino workers allegedly being maltreated in Taiwan, as well as illegal recruitment in Puerto Princesa, which involved a police officer.

Batul’s death raised the total to five journalists killed this year alone. If proven to be work-related, he would be the third to be killed in the line of duty after Orlando Mendoza and Albert Orsolino.

According to the tally of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, 59 journalists have died in the line of duty since the democracy was restored in 1986

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