Alex Balcoba, a reporter for the weekly tabloid People’s Brigada, was fatally shot in the head by an unknown assailant while speaking on his mobile phone outside of a watch repair shop owned by the reporter’s family in the Quiapo district of the capital Manila, according to press reports.
Balcoba was taken by motorized tricycle to the nearby Jose Reyes Medical Center by journalist colleagues but was pronounced dead on arrival, according to news reports. The assailant boarded a motorcycle driven by an accomplice and fled in the direction of the district’s iconic Quiapo Church, the news reports said, citing witnesses.
Balcoba covered local news and crime, and was a deputy director at the Manila Police District Press Corp, news reports said. National Union of Journalists of the Philippines secretary general Ryan Rosauro told CPJ that Balcoba had received a series of anonymous death threats before he was murdered, according to information received from the slain reporter’s family.
Police Senior Investigator Richard Escarlan said authorities were pursuing leads related both to Balcoba’s work as a journalist as well as any possible personal business disputes, news reports said. He said investigators were tracing text messages found on Balcoba’s cell phone that may help to identify the killer or motivation for the attack, the reports said.
Manila Police District homicide chief Senior Inspector Rommel Anticete said on June 3 that retired police officer Benjie Abad was a “person of interest” in Balcoba’s killing, according to an interview he gave to the Philippine Inquirer newspaper. He said in the same interview that Abad previously sued Balcoba for libel in 2012 for reporting on an incident in which the former police officer allegedly brandished a firearm over the planned demolition of the building where he lived.
The two men, who lived in the same area of central Manila, frequently argued during chance encounters in the neighborhood, including a heated confrontation the month before Balcoba’s murder, the reports said. Abad was neither questioned nor considered a suspect in the crime because police lacked evidence that he was linked to the unidentified gunmen, Anticete said in the media interview.
Senior Police Superintendent Marcelino Pedrozo, the Manila Police District’s deputy director for operations, said that Balcoba’s killing was apparently carried out by a professional assassin, the news reports said. Media reports said that police recovered a bullet shell at the crime scene but did not identify the make of the weapon. Police also said they were searching for the owner of the motorcycle used as the getaway vehicle in the attack.
CPJ is investigating to determine whether his murder was work-related.