Joaquin Briones, a columnist for the national tabloid newspaper Remate and a former radio commentator at the local dyME radio station, was shot four times in the back at around 8:45 a.m. in Milagros, a town in the island province of Masbate. He died on the spot from his injuries, reports said.
Police Inspector Malu Calubaquid said the murderers fled the scene of the crime near the town’s Bombon Bridge on a motorcycle, news reports said. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, no suspects were identified, and no arrests were made, the reports said.
The Presidential Task Force on Media Security, established in 2016 by President Rodrigo Duterte to protect journalists and to bring those who kill them to justice, said it had launched an investigation into Briones’ murder, according to news reports.
Milagros Police Inspector Anselmo Prima said police suspected either local politics or personal grudges as possible motives for the crime, reports said.
Lydia Buena, Remate’s managing editor, said she believed Briones’ murder was likely linked to his "hard-hitting" reports on sensitive topics such as illegal fishing, underground gambling, and the drug trade, Agence France-Presse reported.
She said Briones had received "many death threats" for his reporting before his murder and that his journalism had earned him "several enemies" in the local community, the report said.
Paul Gutierrez, president of the National Press Club and a friend of the victim, said that Briones in December 2016 suggested staying in Manila, the national capital, because he feared for his safety in Milagros, reports said. Gutierrez did not mention specifically why Briones said he had felt threatened.
On May 26, 2017, police shot and killed Leonardo Del Rosario Villaran and two others after a firefight that began after authorities tried to serve a warrant for his arrest, the Philippine Star reported. The report said Leonardo Del Rosario was a member of the so-called “Sako” criminal gang and was a suspect in Briones’ killing.
At the time of the shootout, police arrested three other members of the alleged gun-for-hire gang: Arvie Del Rosario, Romeo Del Rosario, and Roger Paglinawan.
They were later identified by the Presidential Task Force for Media Security, a government body created to resolve media murders, as suspects in Briones’ murder, according to news reports.
On July 12, 2018, authorities in Quezon City in the capital arrested Antonio Del Rosario, who was identified by police as the “prime suspect” in Briones’ murder, news reports said. The reports said Del Rosario was also a member of the “Sako” criminal gang. Del Rosario denied any involvement in the crime, saying he was in Manila on the day Briones was killed, the reports said.
The government’s media task force commended his arrest and said it expected his trial would lead to the “real motive” behind the murder and have the “mastermind brought to justice,” news reports said.
Hearings in Del Rosario’s trial were ongoing as of August 2020, according to a statement the Presidential Task Force for Media Security addressed to CPJ.
Ryan Rosauro, secretary general of the National Union of Journalists (NUJP), told CPJ that the professional association’s initial investigations indicated Briones’ killing was likely "work-related." Rosauro said that NUJP investigators received anonymous threats after interviewing witnesses and following up on details of the case.