Philippine journalist gunned down in Cebu market

New York, December 2, 2005—An unidentified gunman killed radio and newspaper journalist George Benaojan in the central city of Cebu on Thursday night before fleeing in a taxi. Benaojan, 27, died at a local hospital around midnight, according to international news reports.

Benaojan was talking to a man in a market when the gunman approached and shot the journalist in the mouth, neck, and chest, according to news reports. A bystander was injured by a stray bullet. Witnesses reported seeing the gunman in the area several hours before the attack, according to news reports.

Local police told reporters that Benaojan had been receiving death threats; they are reviewing his commentaries and columns to investigate possible motives for his murder. Benaojan had reported on alleged corruption in the local customs bureau for Cebu Radio DYBB and the newspaper Bantay Balita, a publication distributed among customs personnel. Benaojan was known for reporting aggressively on official corruption.

Benaojan’s murder came just days after a landmark conviction in the killing of a journalist. On November 29, a Cebu court sentenced former police officer Guillermo Wapile to life imprisonment for the 2002 murder of journalist Edgar Damalerio. It was the first court conviction of a journalist’s killer since a wave of attacks against journalists began in 2000.

“We’re saddened by the mounting death toll in the Philippines and call on authorities to conduct a swift and thorough investigation,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “This brutal murder, coming so soon after the lone conviction of a journalist’s killer in the country, reminds us that Philippine authorities have a long way to go in providing a safe environment for journalists.”

Benaojan survived an attack in August 2004 when three men ambushed him and two colleagues. Benaojan told reporters that he returned fire. He said that anger over his radio commentaries or a personal grudge may have been motives for the attack.

The journalist also ran several businesses, according to news reports.

In May, CPJ cited the Philippines as the “most murderous” country for journalists in the world, with 22 targeted and killed since 2000. A CPJ delegation traveled around the country in June to investigate the root causes of violence against the press. Read the special report from the mission, “On the Air, Under the Gun,”