Philippine police must act to stem journalist murders

New York, June 29, 2009–Police in the Philippines must step up investigations into journalist killings following the shooting death of radio commentator Jonathan Petalvero on Saturday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Petalvero is the fourth Philippine journalist killed this month, the third to be targeted for murder.

A masked gunman late Saturday shot and killed Petalvero in a restaurant in Bayagun, a small town on the southern island of Mindanao, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and international news reports. The gunman fled the scene on a motorcycle, according to the reports. The commentator, who hosted a radio program on DXFM station, was declared dead on arrival at the local hospital, the reports said. (The journalists union noted that some news reports gave conflicting dates for the attack.)

The Philippine national police have established Task Force USIG to investigate media killings in the Philippines, which occur frequently and with near total impunity, according to CPJ research.

“Until the crimes are successfully investigated, June’s surge of violence against the press will undermine the confidence of Philippine journalists,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “It is essential that Task Force USIG respond at once to identify the attackers and protect witnesses who could assist in successful prosecutions.”

CPJ is investigating the circumstances surrounding the Petalvero slaying. Petalvero’s commentary aired as “block-time” broadcasting, a common practice in the Philippines in which commentators buy airtime from local stations and solicit their own advertising. A number of block-time broadcasters have been killed in recent years.

In this case, Petalvero’s commentary aired on a station owned by a local politician, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines. Petalvero also planned to run for a position on the local council in 2010, the union said.

Three other journalists died violently this month. Two gunmen on a motorcycle shot newspaper columnist Antonio Castillo in Masbate province on June 12, according to local and international news reports. Radio commentator Crispin Perez, who was also a lawyer, was murdered on June 9. It is not clear whether the two targeted slayings were connected to journalism. Another journalist, Jojo Trajano, was killed in crossfire while covering a police raid on June 3.

The Philippines ranks sixth worldwide among countries that fail to prosecute cases of journalists killed for their work, according to CPJ’s Impunity Index, which was launched globally in Manila in March. CPJ’s Global Campaign Against Impunity seeks justice in journalist murders in cooperation with local partners in the Philippines.