Suspect says he was hired to silence broadcaster

Police in the southern Philippine province of Palawan have an unusual head start in their investigation of Monday’s murder of radio broadcaster Gerardo Ortega. They apprehended the assassin at the scene, with the help of local firefighters and bystanders, and an unusual amount of information about the killing is already in the public domain. 

The gunman (named as Marlon de Camata, but also known as Marvin Alcaraz according to this GMA News report) initially told police he was trying to steal money. But news reports today say he has confessed to killing Ortega for a fee of 150,000 pesos ($3,370) to “stop his criticism of unnamed powerful people,” to quote Agence France-Presse. Superintendent Roland Amurao told AFP they suspected Ortega’s anti-mining broadcasts were a motive in his death: “Ortega’s hard-hitting commentaries were targeted against mining companies he had accused of destroying Palawan’s environment.”

An accomplice who was a lookout at the shooting is still at large, and the masterminds have not been identified, local news reports say. Police have, however, recovered and traced the weapon used, and say it belongs to a lawyer, Romeo Seratubias, a former employee of a provincial governor Ortega had accused of corruption, according to local news reports. Seratubias denies involvement in the shooting and says he has documentation to prove he sold the gun, the reports say.

Today’s revelations indicate it’s all too easy to hire an assassin to target journalists in the Philippines. It should be easy to catch and punish those responsible. But in case after case, both local police and government-organized task forces have failed to successfully apprehend and prosecute murderers, according to CPJ research. In this case, they have a gun with a paperwork trail and a triggerman willing to discuss his contract. They have a real chance to go after the people who ordered this killing and demonstrate the journalists will not be killed with impunity–and they must capitalize on it.