Unidentified gunman shot and killed Christopher Iban Lozada, a radio broadcaster with the privately owned DBXF Prime Broadcasting Network news station in the southern Philippines, on October 24, 2017.
Lozda and his girlfriend were driving home in his car when unidentified men in a van ambushed them around 9 p.m. in the city of Bisling in Surigao del Sur province, according to news reports.
The journalist was declared dead on the spot from multiple gunshot wounds to his chest, the reports said. His girlfriend, Honey Faith Toyco, was wounded in the shoulder during the attack, and was treated for injuries at a local hospital, local news reports said.
According to the reports, police recovered 7.62 and 5.56 millimeter cartridges from the crime scene.
Lozada, known by his broadcast name Chris Rapido, hosted DBXF Prime’s "Kuskos Batikos" public affairs program and served as vice president of Bislig City’s media association, according to Rona Omo, a colleague at the station who was quoted by the news website Inquirer.
Prior to his death, Lozada had posted to his Facebook page several anonymous death threats he received via SMS on his mobile phone, the online news agency Rappler reported. On October 12 and 19, Lozada reported the threatening messages to local police, the reports said.
The Presidential Task Force on Media Killings, established in October 2016 by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to protect media workers and investigate unsolved journalist murders, said in a statement that it considered Lozada’s death as a media killing.
On November 7, 2017, Bislig City police arrested a suspect in the killing, according to the task force statement, which did not initially mention the detainee’s name.
The statement named Bislig City Mayor Librado Navarro as a person of interest in the case. The task force also said in the statement that the local government barred investigators from taking hold of the van allegedly used in Lozada’s murder.
The national ombudsman office dismissed Navarro from his position in September 2017 for "grave misconduct" in the anomalous procurement of a hydraulic excavator on July 18, 2012, according to the news website Minda News.
Reports said that Lozada was involved in filing charges against Navarro and 11 other local officials who were dismissed in connection with the hydraulic excavator procurement, the Minda News report said. CPJ could not determine when the charges were filed.
According to the local news website News Courier, Lozada also broadcast scatching commentary about the mayor on his "Kuskos Batikos" show.
Navarro, who had previously sued Lozada for libel over his radio reporting in 2013, has denied any involvement in Lozada’s murder, according to news reports.
The Presidential Task Force on Media Killings said that Navarro had sent threatening text messages to Lozada telling him, "to leave Bislig if you do not want to die" and that "he would step down [from office] with Lozada who will go to the cemetery since his days are numbered," according to a CNN report.
Agence France-Presse reported that Lozada had filed reports about the threats he received from Navarro with the presidential task force in October. Jay de Castro, a task force member familiar with the situation, said it had offered Lozada police protection in response to the threats but he declined it, the report said.
On March 12, 2018, the Presidential Task Force on Media Killings identified the suspect as Rolly Mahilum, who the task force said was a close aide to Navarro.
Rappler reported that the gunman’s suspected getaway vehicle, a Toyota HiAce van with license plate number SFJ 951, allegedly belonged to the Bislig City government. When police asked Navarro to make the vehicle available for “verification,” he did not respond to the request, according to task force head Egco, who was quoted in the Rappler report.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, a local press group, said in a report viewed by CPJ in August 2018 that Toyco was in the Department of Justice’s Witness Protection Program due to concerns about her security as a witness to the murder.
On March 23, 2020, police arrested Mahilum in Barangay San Vicente 2, Tagbina, Surigao del Sur province, CNN Philippines reported. Toyco identified him as the gunman, according to that report.
Mahilum entered a plea of not guilty during his arraignment on June 4, according to a statement shared on Facebook by the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, a state body tasked with investigating media killings. Hearings in his murder trial began on June 24 at the Bislig City Regional Court, according to that statement.
The trial was ongoing as of August 2020, according to a task force statement addressed to CPJ.