New York, July 5, 2005—A radio commentator was ambushed and shot at least 15 times by a gang of motorcycle-riding assailants while driving home on the southern island of Mindanao on Sunday. Rolando "Dodong" Morales, who died at the scene, had just finished hosting his weekly program on radio dxMD in General Santos City.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the fatal attack, and is investigating the circumstances behind the killing to determine whether it was related to Morales' broadcasting. Three other journalists have been murdered in the Philippines already this year because of their work, according to CPJ research.
Danilo Mangila, the local police chief superintendent, told reporters that Morales was riding a motorcycle with a companion on the highway into the town of Polomolok when eight assailants on four motorcycles stopped him on the highway and opened fire at around 6 p.m. The gunmen surrounded Morales and continued shooting even after he fell to the ground, witnesses told police. Morales died at the scene, and his companion was wounded, according to local news reports. Police have launched an investigation into the murder, The Associated Press reported.
Police cited Morales' anti-drug commentaries as a possible motive for his murder, but Chief Inspector Rex Anongos, head of the Polomolok police, told the MindaNews wire service that police were looking into other, personal motives for the killing.
Morales hosted a weekly block time program called "Voice of the Village" on the Radio Mindanao Network station and was known for his tough commentaries about illegal drugs, Mangila said. He accused local politicians of corruption and involvement in the illegal drug trade. Morales had been broadcasting since 2003, worked as an inspector at the Dole pineapple plantation, and held local office before starting his radio work, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility reported.
Morales' wife, Floreta, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that her husband had received several death threats by text message on his cell phone since last November because of his crusade against illegal drugs. She said that he continued to broadcast despite the threats "because it was a public service."
Block timing is a practice whereby a broadcaster leases air time from a radio station manager and is responsible for bringing in advertising money to cover the expenses of the program. The majority of journalists killed over the last five years have been commentators on block time programs in remote provinces, CPJ research shows. Journalists are also particularly vulnerable in Mindanao, where two were killed earlier this year: columnist Marlene Esperat in March and block time commentator Klein Cantoneros in May.
CPJ conducted a research mission to the Philippines in June, meeting with local journalists groups, press freedom advocates, government officials and broadcast regulators, searching for solutions to the country's deadly patterns for the press. The mission concluded that corruption, gun violence, and the ongoing problem of impunity made journalists vulnerable to attack. Read more about the mission:
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