Two journalists murdered; CPJ condemns mounting death toll

New York, NY, May 11, 2005- Last night the editor and publisher of a local community newspaper was shot and killed—the second murder of a journalist in the Philippines in less than one week.

Philip Agustin, editor and publisher of the local weekly Starline Times Recorder, was killed by a single shot to the back of the head late last night in the village of Paltic, about 70 miles northeast of the capital Manila, according to local news reports. Police said that the gunman shot Agustin, 54, through an open window in the victim’s daughter’s home, then fled on a motorcycle driven by an accomplice.

A special edition of the Starline Times Recorder dedicated to corruption and illegal logging in the nearby town of Dingalan was slated to come out today. Valentino Lapuz, a member of the local council who witnessed Agustin’s murder, said in an interview with GMA television that the newspaper’s special edition linked local mayor Jaime Ylarde to missing government money. Ylarde denied any connection with Agustin’s murder on the same channel, according to Agence France-Presse.

Agustin’s family told police that his articles about local corruption and official inaction against the illegal logging trade were the likely motives for his murder, according to the ABS-CBN news Web site. The head of the Philippine National Police, Arturo Lomibao, is traveling to Dingalan today to investigate the killing, The Associated Press reported.

“We call on authorities to make Agustin’s death the last,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The government must apprehend those responsible and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”

In a similarly brazen attack on May 4, radio broadcaster Klein Cantoneros was gunned down in Dipilog City on the southern island of Mindanao. Cantoneros’ brother told the ABS-CBN news Web site that Cantoneros had been receiving death threats in retaliation for his critical commentaries on local Governor Rolando Yebes.

Less than two months ago, another gunman shot and killed columnist Marlene Esperat with a single shot to the head in her home on March 24. Four suspects have been arrested for Esperat’s murder. On May 9 all four pleaded not guilty to the charges in the Taculong Regional Trial Court in Mindanao.

At least 18 journalists have been murdered in reprisal for their work in the Philippines since 2000, making it the most murderous country for journalists in the world, according to CPJ research. Read “Marked for Death,” CPJ’s analysis of the most murderous countries.