Fernando Batul (Reuters)

Court acquits man charged in 2006 murder of radio anchor

New York, April 18, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is dismayed by the acquittal of a former police officer charged with the five-year-old murder of local Philippine radio anchor Fernando Batul.

Fernando Batul (Reuters)
Fernando Batul (Reuters)

On April 11, Judge Bienvenido Blancaflor, hearing the case in the provincial town of Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan, ruled that the prosecution had failed to convincingly establish Aaron Golifardo as the murderer. Few Philippine media outlets reported the verdict, which was confirmed to CPJ today by the media support group Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR).

Batul, 37, a radio commentator with local radio stations DZRH and DYPR, was shot six times by motorcycle-riding gunmen while he was driving to work in Puerto Princesa. Golifardo was charged in the murder two days later, after being identified by witnesses, according to news reports at the time. The other person on the motorcycle was never fully identified.

“It is hard to believe that justice has truly been served in the killing of Fernando Batul, who was murdered five years ago,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.  “Even though there has been a ‘not guilty’ verdict, this journalist’s murder case remains very much open, and the impunity with which journalists are being killed in the Philippines remains a matter of national shame.

“It is up the country’s police and courts to address Batul’s death and the deaths of so many others in the country that have gone unpunished.” Dietz said.

Batul had been targeted before his death. On May 15, 2006, two unexploded grenades were found at Batul’s home in Puerto Princesa. A letter was attached to the house’s gate threatening to harm Batul’s family if he continued his critical broadcasts. CMFR said Batul had recently angered city officials who had organized contracts for Philippine workers in Taiwan–a highly lucrative operation. CMFR also said that the Philippine army was angry with him for earlier interviews he had done with members of the communist New People’s Army.

A prosecution lawyer, Joselito Alisuag, expressed disappointment at the verdict in an interview with The Philippine Daily Inquirer. “We thought we had a strong case against Golifardo,” Alisuag said.

The Philippines rank third, behind Iraq and Somalia on CPJ’s impunity index Getting Away with Murder, which calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population.