Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Culture of impunity also in Manila

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility updates its report on the Melendres killing, including a correction on his surname. Journalist killings in the country used to be mostly coming from the provincial press, but the recent killings of Manila-based journalists indicate a different trend. It just shows that the culture of impunity is not only prevalent in the provinces, but in the country's capital as well.

Manila-based photojournalist slain -- CMFR
Source: Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

A Metro Manila-based photojournalist was slain on 31 July in Malabon City, just north of Manila.

Based on police reports, Prudencio “Dick” Melendres, a photojournalist working for Manila-based tabloid Tanod (Guardian), had just left his home when he was murdered just before 9 a.m.

Melendres was reportedly on his way to his coverage assignment, wearing a raincoat, a jacket and a black belt bag, when four armed men shot him in a narrow alley near his house at Gozon compound in Malabon City. The victim succumbed to gunshot wounds in the chest, abdomen, and nape.

Melendres’s assassins, who wore black jackets with hoods, immediately fled after the incident aboard a passenger jeep bound for the nearby municipality of Navotas, according to a witness. Other sketchy reports said the suspects were riding two motorcycles.

The local police ruled out speculations that the murder of Melendres was linked to his job as a journalist. "Based on initial findings, the case is not work-related," Malabon City police chief Moises Guevarra said.

Local residents, who refused to be identified, believe Melendres’s killing could be related to Albert Orsolino’s case, The Philippine Star reported. Melendres was a cousin of Orsolino, a photojournalist himself, who was similarly shot dead during an ambush last 16 May.

Orsolino, who was also a former reporter covering the MalacaƱang (Office of the President), worked for another tabloid Saksi Ngayon (Witness Today). Police investigation showed that he was most likely killed because of a personal grudge of a neighbor.

Relatives said that after Orsolino was killed, Melendres replaced him as president of Letre Urban People Homeowners’ Association. Both Orsolino and Melendres were also members of the CAMANAVA (Caloocan-Malabon-Navotas-Valenzuela) Press Corps.

Melendres, said his uncle Ernesto Rosales, had been helping residents in the area to acquire the land on which they had been considered previously been illegal settlers, reported the Inquirer News Service.

Northern Police District (NPD) chief Leopoldo Bataoil confirmed it was “highly probable” that the killings (Orsolino’s and Melendres’s) were related.

Bataoil said Melendres apparently thought he would be killed like Orsolino because he left a sealed letter with instructions that it be opened if he was killed.

“He knew who were out to kill him and detailed it in his letter,” Bataoil said. One of two people mentioned in the letter has been taken in by the police for investigation, authorities said.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Oscar Calderon ordered the creation of a task force, to be led by the NPD Deputy Director for Operations, Senior Supt. Constante Azares, to look into the possible link of the Melendres killing to Orsolino’s murder.

Melendres’s slay brought the total number of slain journalists – both work and non-work related – to at least 83, since democracy was restored in 1986, based on the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s (CMFR) working database.

This year alone, 10 media practitioners were killed. However, only four of whom were in the line of duty as listed by the CMFR. Scores of activists, peace and human rights advocates were also slain in 2006 alone, indicating a worsening climate of violence and impunity in the country.

Aside from Melendres, two activists were also slain on 31 July in separate incidents in Kalinga and Sorsogon provinces, approximately 400 and 550 kilometers north and south of Manila, respectively.

Calderon said several teams of the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group special investigators will be deployed in areas where there have been killings of militants and journalists and help local police investigators do their jobs.

Deputy Director General Avelino Razon Jr. – head of PNP’s Task Force Usig (Prosecute) which is in charge of investigating killings of journalists and activists – said they are using the regional offices of the CIDG in investigative efforts.

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