Philippine journalist shot, in critical condition

New York, August 5, 2008—Gunmen shot and critically wounded radio journalist Dennis Cuesta in the southern Philippines late Monday, according to news reports. Police told international reporters the shooting may be related to Cuesta’s aggressive broadcasts on crime and social issues.

Two gunmen traveling by motorcycle fired several shots at Cuesta, a program director and anchor of DXMD, part of the Radio Mindanao Network, on a public street in General Santos City before fleeing the scene, according to news reports citing police. Cuesta sustained multiple injuries, including a gunshot wound to the head, and remained in critical condition in a local hospital, the reports said. A companion was unhurt, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur. The Associated Press quoted an official saying there were three gunmen.

“We call for an immediate investigation into this attempt on Cuesta’s life, which follows a pattern that journalists in the Philippines know only too well,” said Elisabeth Witchel, CPJ’s Impunity Campaign Coordinator. “Journalists in the Philippines are frequently killed and assaulted with impunity, all for doing their jobs. In the past 10 years at least 25 journalists have been victims of premeditated murder in connection to their work.”

Although the motive remains unclear, a city police chief told DPA that Cuesta had recently applied for a firearm license and requested police protection following death threats related to his reporting. Senior Superintendent Robert Po said a party involved in a land dispute had asked Cuesta to stop broadcasting critical commentaries about the case on the public affairs show he hosted, according to DPA.

In July 2005, DXMD radio commentator Rolando “Dodong” Morales was shot repeatedly by a group of motorcycle-riding assailants while driving home from the station’s studios in General Santos City. CPJ subsequently confirmed that the slaying was work-related.

CPJ is now investigating the July 2008 shooting of Philippine journalist Bert Sison, who was killed in his car by two gunmen passing on a motorcycle, for connections to his work for a local newspaper that reported on crime and criticized local officials. Publisher Benefredo Acabal also died of gunshot wounds after a drive-by shooting in April.

CPJ’s Global Campaign Against Impunity focuses on the Philippines.