On notorious anniversary, Philippine journalist shot

New York, March 24, 2011–Manila police must thoroughly investigate the murder of radio anchor Maria Len Fores Somera, who was shot today near her home in Malabon City, a suburb of Manila.

An unidentified man shot Somera, a DZME station host, in the back of the head before fleeing in a Jeep, according to The Associated Press. Some local news reports said there were two assailants. Somera, a 44-year-old mother of three, died en route to a local hospital, news reports said.

Accounts of possible motives differed. Police Chief Nicanor Bartolome told the Philippine Inquirer that Somera was involved in a land dispute through her presidency of a housing association. Agence France-Presse, citing a statement from DZME, said her radio broadcasts focused on helping disadvantaged people. Reuters quoted police spokesman Agrimero Cruz saying the killing could be work related. Somera frequently criticized officials for failing to provide adequate public services, Reuters reported.

The killing came on a notorious date in the Philippines, the sixth anniversary of the murder of crusading anti-corruption journalist Marlene Garcia-Esperat. On March 24, 2005, a gunman shot Garcia-Esperat in the head in her southern Mindanao home in the presence of her children. Unusually for the Philippines, three men were convicted in 2006 of carrying out the killing. But two government officials identified by the assailants as having ordered the killing have yet to be prosecuted, according to CPJ research.  

“Six years to the day after Marlene Garcia-Esperat was shot and killed, Maria Len Fores Somera’s death serves as a tragic reminder that Philippine journalists are still at risk, and that President Benigno Aquino is failing to push for justice for their slain colleagues,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Manila police must immediately respond to this murder and investigate whether Somera was killed for her work. But beyond that, it is Aquino’s responsibility to reverse the entrenched climate of impunity which allows these murders to continue.”

Two months ago, in January, radio broadcaster Gerardo Ortega was shot in the back of the head by an assassin in Puerto Princesa City in the southern province of Palawan. Police apprehended a suspect who they say has admitted being hired to kill Ortega, a vocal critic of the local mining industry. Such a break-through does not guarantee justice, though, as demonstrated by the still-ongoing prosecution in the Garcia-Esperat case. Delays are already creeping into the Ortega investigation, one local newspaper reports. A Department of Justice preliminary investigation into the killing began last month, but former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes, who is accused of involvement, did not attend and denied receiving a subpoena, according to the Inquirer.

The Philippines ranked third on CPJ’s Impunity Index in 2010, making it one of the worst nations in the world in combating deadly anti-press violence. CPJ’s index calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population. CPJ’s Global Campaign Against Impunity, an initiative underwritten by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, focuses on the Philippines and Russia.