Prior to a life as a radio commentator, Fernando “Nanding” Solijon escaped death three times.
According to his brother, Jerriel, who spoke at the necrological rites for Nanding at Public Plaza on Monday evening, Nanding first came face-to-face with death while he was around 12 years old in the hinterlands of Manticao, Misamis Oriental, where the Solijon brood was raised by farmer-parents.
Nanding accidentally stepped on an uprooted tree that slid and dragged him downhill. He was lucky to cling to a stump and avoided getting killed.
Years later, Jerriel recalled, Nanding was swept by floodwaters in a river. His family thought he drowned, only to find out, when the flood subsided that, Nanding had clung to the roots of a tree that grew along the banks.
In his senior year in high school, Nanding was suspected of being a communist rebel and was beaten up by soldiers. His family found him bloodied and unconscious after the beating. “He was very lucky to have survived,” Jerriel narrated.
Fate caught up on the 48-year-old Nanding in the evening of Aug. 30 through eight gunshots. On Tuesday, more than 500 mostly ordinary people brought him to his final resting place at St. Michael Cemetery here.
A funeral march, led by local journalists, brought Nanding’s remains from the city plaza, where it stayed overnight for public viewing and a vigil, to the cemetery chapel for an 8 a.m. Mass.
The mourners carried placards, mostly bearing messages condemning the murder of Nanding, which is the 35th unsolved murder in the city since June.
If found to be work-related, Nanding’s case could be the 159th of a journalist being murdered in the country since democracy was restored in 1986, said JB Deveza, Mindanao media safety officer of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
Solijon hosted “Sandiganan” (Defender or Refuge), a widely popular one-hour block time public affairs program in dxLS Love Radio that aired Mondays to Fridays. He had been a radio announcer with dxLS since 2006, station manager Rudy Catubay said.
Solijon was doing well in ratings after moving from Ozamiz City.
“As we bury Nanding, let us commit to keeping alive the public’s longing for truth,” Francisco Dosdos, president of Lanao Press and Radio Club, urged colleagues.
Public support for media
Amid the state of mourning the killing brought and its chilling effect, Dosdos noted “a silver lining” in the case: an outpouring of positive sentiment and public support for media professionals.
When Solijon’s remains were brought for public viewing at the city plaza on Monday until Tuesday, hundreds of people lined up to meet the man many of them knew only through his voice. In Iligan, radio is the principal platform for public discourse.
Some 44 months ago, a handful of local activists joined journalists in an indignation rally at the public plaza after the Maguindanao massacre of Nov. 23, 2009.
“The killing of Nanding is really chilling. It was hard at first to imagine that while we in the station commemorated yearly the Maguindanao massacre, this happens now to one of our own here,” Catubay told the people who gathered at the plaza.
“Your show of sympathy somehow lightens the impact of this great loss to us,” Catubay added.
Alma, an avid listener of “Sandiganan,” told the Inquirer that she may not necessarily agree with Solijon’s strong language, but “the issues he raised required a no-nonsense answer by the public officials concerned.”
“Why resort to killing Nanding? If they have grievances, they can always go to court. If they think they can silence us, they are dead wrong,” declared Norberto “Boy” Altres, Solijon’s colleague at dxLS, during the necrological rites.
Elmer, a “Sandiganan” fan, told the Inquirer that days prior to Solijon’s murder, he was discussing allegations of financial shenanigans in City Hall. On a Friday, Elmer narrated, Nanding entertained a succession of six callers purportedly wanting to contribute a phone-in comment related to the issue.
It turned out to be threats against Nanding’s life, and issued on air, Elmer further said. “Ding, andam na ang Capin para nimo (Capin is ready for you),” Elmer recalled one of the threats that went live on air that Friday.
Capin is a funeral parlor here.
On Monday, the National Bureau of Investigation released sketches of the two suspects involved in the killing.
According to the NBI, they were able to find witnesses in Purok 1 of Barangay Buruun who described the facial features of the suspects.
Based on the NBI’s probe, the motorcycle-riding suspects were waiting for Solijon to come down from a house on a hill in Barangay Buruun. That evening, Solijon had a drink with a new radio colleague, Alvin Suan.
While on the prowl for Solijon, the two suspects bought two cans of sardines at a nearby store, exposing their faces to many people who remembered the suspects.
The two sardine cans were found near the cemented footsteps leading to the house of Suan.
Investigators also recovered the face mask used by the gunman 50 meters from where Solijon slumped after the shooting.
Witnesses told the NBI the getaway motorcycle was not able to start immediately, and in the process of troubleshooting, the face mask fell off.
Ricardo A. Diaz, NBI regional director, told reporters here their investigation would cover all possible suspects, whether those involved in carrying out the killing or in masterminding it.