MANILA, Philippines – Journalists in Palawan continue to fear for their lives two years after the assassination of environmentalist-journalist Dr. Gerry Ortega whenever they cover the alleged misuse of funds from the Malampaya gas project.
“Even at this time, the impact of this issue among the local media practitioners is very strong, … a lot of journalists, especially journalists who are covering the story from Palawan, have opted to stay away from the issue,” National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) officer and Philippine Daily Inquirer correspondent Redempto Anda said during a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing Thursday.
“If you go to Palawan, not a lot of people talk about this anymore, we’ve had two journalists killed in the past six to seven years [and] we’ve lost several leaders in the civil-society group … [including] Dr. Jose Antonio Socrates, one of the founders of Kilusan Love Malampaya,” Anda said.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, headed by Senator Teofisto Guingona III, was conducting the investigation to find out how funds from the Malampaya gas project had been misused by the provincial government.
Malampaya is an offshore gas reservoir about 80 kilometers northwest of Palawan Island and is estimated to have 2.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas 3,000 meters below sea level.
A previous committee hearing had found that an anomalous road project of the local government had reportedly received P20 million in December 2007, P14 million in January 2008, P20 million in February 2008, and another P20 million in 2008.
“Clearly there was corruption,” Guingona had said at the start of the hearing. He then proceeded to tackle the issue of the murder of Dr. Gerry Ortega last January 24, 2011, which was allegedly because he had been critical of the provincial governor Joel Reyes for corruption.
“While we are talking here, there is blanket fear among journalists to talk about the misuse of Malampaya funds of the provincial government,” Guingona said.
Anda said that he continues to receive threats and pressure from the provincial government and is forced to go around with a security aide.
“I would like to stress on the issue of the absence of assurances among civil-society members [and] media practitioners in general, we are literally sitting ducks in Palawan and we can’t do anything about it,” Anda said.
How Reyes, along with his brother Mario Reyes, managed to escape authorities and even leave the country was also looked into by Guingona. The Reyes brothers have already been placed in the most wanted list of the Philippine National Police with a P2 million reward.