Philippine radio commentator shot and critically wounded

New York, March 9, 2009–Following the murder attempt against radio journalist Nilo Labares, the head reporter at DXCC Radio Mindanao Network, the Committee to Protect Journalists called today for a thorough investigation into the shooting and an end to impunity in crimes against journalists.

On March 5, two gunmen shot Labares twice at around 9 p.m. near his home. The men fled on a motorcycle, according to news stories that quoted a police report. Police suspect that there may have been two other people involved, according to the news reports.

Labares was taken to a hospital in nearby Cagayan de Oro city on the southern island of Mindanao, where he was in critical condition after emergency surgery in which doctors removed one of his kidneys that had been damaged by a bullet, according to news reports.

Superintendent Noel Armilla, the acting city police chief, said that the attack was apparently connected to his work as a journalist, according to a report in the Philippine Inquirer. Two suspects, Felizer Caitor and Bernardo Aguilar, surrendered to police today, according to other news reports.

The radio station’s news chief, Rey Maraunay, told Agence France-Presse after the shooting that Labares received a threat an anonymous call two weeks ago. The caller warned him against continuing his hard-hitting reports on illegal gambling in the area.

“We call on the police in Cagayan de Oro to conduct a swift and independent investigation into the attack on radio journalist Nilo Labares and bring the assailants to justice,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “We regret that the persistent lack of arrests or convictions in such cases has allowed a culture of impunity to take deep root across the Philippines.”  

At least two Philippine journalists have been killed on Mindanao so far this year. Last month gunmen shot and killed radio broadcaster Ernie Rollin in Misamis Occidental province, northern Mindanao. In January, radio commentator Badrodin Abbas was shot by two motorcycle-riding assailants in Mindanao’s Cotabato City. CPJ is investigating whether the attacks were motivated by their work as journalists.

The Philippines is the most dangerous place in Asia to work as a journalist, according to CPJ research. At least five journalists, three of them radio commentators, were killed in the Philippines last year. In cooperation with local partners, CPJ launched a global campaign to combat impunity for journalist murders, initially focusing on the Philippines and Russia. CPJ’s 2008 Impunity Index ranked the Philippines in sixth place as the country with the most unsolved murders of journalists.

CPJ will be launching its 2009 Impunity Index on March 23 in Manila, along with the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists.