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Remembering Philippine prosecutor Leo Dacera


Leo Dacera, a senior state prosecutor and head of the witness protection program for the Philippine Department of Justice, died suddenly on November 4. Initial news reports said Dacera, 54, left, was the victim of an apparent heart attack. Dacera's untimely death is a tremendous blow to all those seeking to end the culture of impunity in Philippine journalist murders. 

Dacera was a crucial, if unheralded, ally. He was directly responsible for winning convictions of three assailants in the murder of Marlene Garcia-Esperat, the crusading Philippine reporter slain in her home in front of her children in 2005. He was also a lead prosecutor in the ongoing case against defendants in the Magunidanao massacre, which took the lives of 32 journalists and media workers in November 2009.

"Leo was a great ally who understood what needed to be done," said CPJ board member Sheila Coronel, a Philippine investigative journalist now teaching at Columbia University's journalism school. "He will be sorely missed. I don't think there's anyone at the Department of Justice who comes close in terms of a commitment to seeing prosecutions through."

I saw this firsthand when I met Dacera during a 2008 visit to the Philippines. Sheila and I met him in his office, where he spent several hours running through the list of outstanding cases on his docket. He talked about his efforts to ensure the safety of witnesses who had entered the protection program. Although the program was under-funded and unpopular in some political circles, Dacera was making steady progress.

I asked Dacera if I could mention this success to his boss at the time, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales. Dacera told me no, that I shouldn't even mention that we had met.

When I met Gonzales later, I could see why. He was overtly hostile. Gonzales received me while sitting on a beat-up couch in the middle of an open office. He glared with unmistakable contempt as I laid out CPJ's research on the unpunished murders of dozens of journalists, then accused me of exaggerating the problem. He made clear he was not on our side in the anti-impunity struggle.

The brief meeting with the angry Gonzales made me admire Dacera all the more, because I saw precisely what he was up against.

While newspaper reports described Dacera's cause of death as a heart attack, I was disconcerted by comments from current Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima. She said Dacera was under pressure, that he'd been threatened, and that he was depressed.  While there is no evidence to suggest that he died from anything other than natural causes, given the sensitivity of his position a thorough and transparent investigation should be carried out.

Dacera sought justice, never the limelight. In death, however, his achievements must be recognized. He is one of the most committed and dedicated public servants I have met in all my time at CPJ. Although I did not know him well, I shall miss him tremendously.

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We are in tears as we heard of the news. He truly needs to be recognized. Forever we will be grateful to the silent but powerful service he provided to me especially to the widow of my brother. We will miss him too.

leo Dacera is a good friend of mine and my shool mate during our high school days The last timr We saw was 2006 when iwent back home in our hometown in generalsantos city iwas shocked when iread that he was passed away because he is the man to be proud of a happy man and never forget his friends,a man that has a courage to fight protect the victims of violence,he my rest in peace condolence to his sisters Hena Sychong and Luz Abiera and mom nad family

Leo will always be remembered by our family. It is hard to believe he died soon.Marami pa sana siyang matutulungan.His being dedicated public servant make us fell we lost a great man in Department of Justice. "Leo wherever you are your big help in the case of Marlene Esperat , my sister will always be cherished not only by me but our whole family.You are such a good man,and for being so ,be assured of our prayers. Happy meeting with our Lord....

Valmie G. Mariveles November 19, 2010 7:50:31 AM ET

Sir Leo I just know you personally when we worked together for the maguindanao massacre case.... for Almost (1) one month of working under your truely captured my admiration....You'r just an ordinary man, taking care of your staff even your security guards and kasambahay, you shared jokes and joys with us, yet an extraordinary and an excellent prosecutor......You are so simple yet so dependable... You really workhard to poster and to show the Filipinos that the justice system in the Philippines still just and working. I cherished and treasured the shortime we've been working.... Working with you sir is my most memorable moment and my begist achivements in my entire carrer, I salute you Sir.....goodbye Sir.... Everyday of my life. Even I'm riding with the motorcycle I remembered your happy face.... my heart always cried because I missed you.... But I know you are now with Jesus contenue working with him for Maguindanao Massacre, somehow you death needs transparent investigation.....I missed you sir...... It's your time to rest and be happy with Jesus..... you give us enought time, love and dedication. thank you.... thank you.....

Every time I went to an internet cafe, it is my earnest desire to connect with the blog of Sir Leo Dacera and leave a comment there, because I always remember his simplicity, kindness and generousity.... Philippines for almost one (1) month of working with Sir Leo Dacera, I personally witness how he workedhard and stood up to give justice to the innocent victims and foster respect for the rule of law in our country...... This is what he wants us to believe, to stand and to work for...... Ma'am Leila de Lima may I respectfully request that you could share this message to all DOJ Prosecutors and staff........... Sir Leo wants us to be an instrument of God to foster respect for the rule of law in our country because we have given the capacity and oppoartunity to do being here in the Department Of Justice.......