Journalist dies of gunshot wounds in the Philippines

New York, August 11, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists mourns the death of radio commentator Dennis Cuesta, who died in a General Santos City hospital on Saturday after gunmen shot him near his office on August 4. Local press freedom groups told CPJ that they believe his murder was related to his work.

Cuesta’s colleague Mel Coronel told The Associated Press that the journalist never recovered consciousness after the attack and passed away while in intensive care. Cuesta was an anchor and program director with DXMD station in General Santos, on the southern island of Mindanao.

Gunmen also shot and killed Martin Roxas, a commentator with DYVR station in the Panay island city of Roxas, on August 7. Both journalists were known for analysis of local political issues at their respective stations, which are affiliated under the umbrella of the Manila-based media group Radio Mindanao Network. The killers in each case rode motorcycles, a common characteristic of journalist shootings in the Philippines, and carried out the attacks in broad daylight.

Dennievin Macaranas, an operations manager with the network, told CPJ on Friday that both men had been threatened in connection with their recent reporting in the run-up to last week’s attacks. He did not believe the murders were related to each other, he said.

“We send our condolences to Dennis Cuesta’s family and colleagues,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on local and national authorities to be vigorous in their investigations and move quickly to protect witnesses of both of these very public atrocities. Effective prosecution of the murderers is the only way to break the pattern of journalists being slain with impunity.”

Police in General Santos said they are investigating individuals who may have been angered by Cuesta’s commentaries, particularly ones involving a land dispute, according to news reports. In Roxas City, police have reportedly arrested two suspects who tried to charge a roadblock set up in the aftermath of the attack on Martin Roxas. Roxas had recently broadcast an expose on misappropriation of city funds, according to AP.      

CPJ launched a campaign in November to address the murders of journalists that occur with impunity, with a focus on the Philippines and Russia.