Justice breakthrough in Philippines in Ortega murder case

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in welcoming the breakthrough in the murder case of veteran Filipino journalist, Gerry ‘Doc’ Ortega, after the conviction of a key player involved in the murder on March 7. The IFJ and NUJP call of the government to continue its work in ending impunity in the Philippines and ultimately bringing the masterminds behind Gerry Ortega’s murder to full justice. 

On Monday, March 7, Arturo ‘Nonoy’ Regalado, the former aide of Palawan governor Joel Reyes was found ‘guilty beyond reasonable doubt’ for Ortega’s murder by the Palawan Regional Trial Court Branch 52. Ortega, a well-known Filipino broadcaster and environmentalist, was shot dead on January 24, 2011, as he shopped in a local store in Puerto Princess in Palawan, in the south-western MIMAPORA province. Ortega was one of Palawan’s strongest voices against corruption, particularly about mining in the province. The court found that Regalado purchased the gun used to kill Ortega. He was sentenced to reclusion perpetua, which carries a minimum jail term of 20 years and one day and a maximum term of 40 years.

The Ortega murder case is considered a key case in the country implicating the former governer of Palawan as well as his brother who are alleged to have ordered the killing. The gunman, Marlon Recamata, was captured fleeing the scene and in 2013 was sentenced to reclusion perpetua by a Palawan court after he pled guilty to the shooting. During Recamata’s trial, the gunman said that Joel Reyes and his brother Mario Reyes, a former municipal mayor from Palawan, had called for Ortega’s killing in retaliation for the journalist’s critical reporting of local mining operations and allegations that then-Govenor Joel Reyes had received revenues from a local gas field. The Reyes brothers have denied the allegations and said their political enemies were behind it. A Department of Justice (DOJ) panel cleared the Reyes brothers of their involvement, however a re-investigation considered additional evidence. However the brothers went into hiding shortly before a DOJ second panel came out with a ruling finding probable cause to charge them with murder. After the ruling, the pair fled the country, the Reyes brothers were subsequently arrested in Phuket in September 2015, Thailand for overstaying their visas and entering the country illegally. They were deported to the Philippines and have since remained in jail in Puerto Princesa City.

Gerry Ortega’s case is one of 51 cases among 117 listed by the government established Task Force Usig as work-related media killings. Among the 51 cases, there have been only six convictions, Regalado’s being the seventh. In November 2014, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told the IFJ that the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons had listed “100 priority cases”, including 54 which were determined as media-related killings, including Ortega’s. Outcomes on the Inter-Agency remain unclear.

Ryan Rosauro, chairperson of the NUJP said: “With the conviction of Regalado, we look forward to the day the case against the Reyes brothers is finally decided and justice given to Gerry Ortega, his family and the people of Palawan whom he served.By then, it will be the rare instance when the masterminds to a journalist’s murder are actually convicted, unlike in the more than a hundred other media murders since 1986 that remain unsolved and help perpetuate the culture of impunity that has claimed thousands of lives in our country.”

Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary said: “The IFJ welcomes the efforts by the judicial system to secure justice for Gerry Ortega but full justice will not be delivered until those who ordered his shooting are also imprisoned for their crimes.”

Global statistics show that nine out of ten journalist killings go unpunished.

“Convictions of masterminds, the powerful and corrupt who order the murder of journalists remains a key challenges for the Philippines in its ongoing fight against impunity,” Bellanger said. 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 139 countries

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