TAGUM CITY—A single pop, then a succession of gunshots. A third journalist killed in Mindanao in two weeks.
Rogelio Butalid had just stepped out of a radio station here after hosting a public service program on Wednesday morning when a man wearing dark glasses approached him and fired several times, witnesses said.
Butalid, 46, a block timer for 107.9 FM Radyo Natin and councilman of Barangay (village) Mankilam, was killed past 9 a.m. after his hourlong program “Ang Kamatuoran (The Truth),” said Elmer Tandoc, the station manager.
The killing came just less than a week after the deaths of a radio personality, Michael Milo, in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur province, and another radioman, Joas Dignos, in Valencia City, Bukidnon province, a week before.
On the eve of Butalid’s killing, unidentified men shot and wounded a radio reporter, Jonavin “Jhey-R” Villalba, in front of his house in Iloilo City.
Culture of impunity
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the attacks and called for the immediate resolution of the cases.
The NUJP said the culture of impunity in the country has remained and even worsened under the Aquino administration over three and a half years.
In Manila, Malacañang’s Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma described as “saddening” the killing of Butalid in a press briefing on Wednesday.
“We have sent our condolences regarding this incident and the Philippine National Police is expected to take appropriate actions to get those responsible for the killing of Mr. Butalid,” Coloma said in Filipino.
So far, the NUJP has recorded 19 work-related media killings during the Aquino administration.
“Four attacks with three dead and one wounded journalist in 12 days is shocking even in a country that has long been among those at the top of the list of the most murderous countries for journalists,” the group said in a statement.
The gunmen in all four attacks remain at large, police said.
Butalid was about to board his motorcycle outside the Leonardia Building on a busy intersection in downtown Tagum when he was ambushed, according to police and witnesses.
“We heard a single pop then a succession of gunshots down below minutes after he had stepped out of the announcer’s booth,” said Roy Obar, an employee of Radyo Natin station that was occupying the upper floor of the building.
Witnesses said that after shooting the broadcaster in the head and body, the gunman ran back to a waiting motorcycle driven by an accomplice and fled.
“He (Butalid) was a principled man, a fighter,” said Rod Laguna, another broadcaster. “We would stand by what he believed was the truth.”
Butalid had been hosting the public service program paid for by the Davao del Norte Electric Cooperative (Daneco) under the National Electrification Administration for almost a year.
He had been known for his stinging commentaries against supporters of a rival Daneco faction under the Cooperative Development Authority, Tandoc said.
Colleagues said Butalid had been receiving death threats and that during his radio program, he even joked about receiving threats from unknown persons.
Villalba, 43, a reporter of dyOK Aksyon Radyo Iloilo, was wounded in the right ankle and left foot, according to Senior Supt. Ruperto Floro, Iloilo City police chief.
He was brought to Iloilo Mission Hospital where he was declared in stable condition.
Two unidentified men wearing black jackets and helmets and riding on a black motorcycle repeatedly shot at Villalba past 11 p.m. as he was opening the gate of his house at Barangay Cuartero in Jaro District, according to Chief Insp. Rhea Santos, Jaro police chief.
Villalba, who was covering crime cases, sensed that he was being tailed on his way home on his motorcycle from the Jaro police station.
“He told us he passed by two men on a motorcycle who followed him. He was crouching while opening the lower lock of their gate when he was fired upon,” Santos told the Inquirer.
Police were still determining the motive of the shooting and the identity of the gunmen. Villalba told investigators that he had no known personal enemies.
The radio station has been airing hard-hitting commentaries against illegal drug operations in the city for the past several months.
But its manager, John Paul Tia, said Villalba did not host any public affairs program. “I cannot think of any reason for the attack. Perhaps somebody is sending us a message,” Tia said.
72 deaths since 1992
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranks the Philippines as the third-worst in its “impunity index” of countries that fail to combat violence against the media.
By its own count, the CPJ has said at least 72 journalists had been killed in the Philippines since 1992, excluding the three latest deaths.
In November 2009, 32 journalists were among 58 people kidnapped and massacred in Maguindanao province, allegedly by members of a powerful clan. Of the 196 people charged in that case, 88 remain at large, and rights groups said families of the victims as well as witnesses remain under threat of retribution.
Four years after the Maguindanao massacre, no one has yet been convicted. Despite recent moves to speed it up, the trial is expected to drag on for years in the country’s overburdened court system.
Coloma earlier drew flak for downplaying media killings under the Aquino administration. He had said the 24 journalists reportedly killed under the present regime included “a driver of a network, employees of fly-by-night newspapers and a block-timer selling skin whiteners.”
Reacting to the killing of Dignos, however, Coloma later declared: “We are determined to end the culture of impunity that has brought about these media killings and we call on the citizens to support our efforts.”—With reports from Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Inquirer Visayas; Christian V. Esguerra in Manila; and AFP