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Stop the ‘not so serious’ media murders

For somebody like pinch-hitting spokesman Herminio Coloma, who is not just a columnist, but even a martial-law era activist, to say that media killings in the country is “not so serious” is shocking.

More so when he seems to be really convinced that it’s a trifle problem since he looked down on several in the list of 24 media people killed under President Aquino’s term as “a driver of a network, employees of fly-by-night newspapers”, and to ridicule a somebody who probably was just trying to have ends meet, “a block-timer selling skin whiteners.”

But Coloma probably is a very accurate spokesman for Aquino, since after all, this President hasn’t done much to stop the “not-so-serious” killing of journalists, other than to make promises.

Consider the photo of the banner headline of a major newspaper accompanying this column. Merlina “Len” Sumera was the host of a DZME public affairs radio program in Metro Manila, a 44-year-old mother of three, killed near her home in Malabon City by a single gunshot wound in the head, an indication of the work of a professional assassin.

When was that banner headline published, with its article reporting that Aquino “assured the public that Sumera’s killing would soon be solved,” and that “he had received reports that the National Capital Region Police had identified and were in pursuit of the killers?”

March 26, 2011, two years and eight months ago.

“Soon” for Aquino has meant never.

When? Aquino promise nearly three years ago.

When? Aquino promise nearly three years ago.

Two years and eight months now no one has been arrested for a murder that drew even international condemnation. Apparently assuming that Aquino was too stupid to realize that the police were making fun of him, the Philippine National Police claimed that communists perpetrated the murder.

Communists did it
But not by just by any communist group but by “Partisanong Gitnang Luzon”—a group not mentioned at all in any national security assessment, or even in any Communist Party propaganda that it’s likely to be fictitious, but a convenient fiction for the police as they’d just say that they can’t be arrested as they’re in the hills with the NPAs.

The PNP claimed that the killers were “Carlos Alejandro, and four identified only by their aliases as “Al Pilay, Rosa, Rene and Pangit.” The police quite obviously were too uninterested over the case that they didn’t even concoct more convincing names.

Even the late Department of Interior and Local Government secretary, Jesse Robredo got involved, with a newspaper reporting: “Robredo personally met with the Malabon police, local government officials and representatives of urban poor association hours after the assassination of Sumera.” Robredo echoed Aquino’s boast, that police will leave “no stone unturned in investigating the murder of the radio news anchor.”

Like all of the 24 media men killed under Aquino’s term, Sumera’s murderers haven’t been captured, nor even really identified.

The case is dead in the water, and even its case file is gathering dust in some Department of Justice filing cabinet, and nobody’s really investigating it nor a group assigned to capture the suspects—if those identified are real persons, that is.

I had asked in August our reporter Ferdinand Villamente to check out what happened to the Sumera case. His report, read and weep:

“Investigation and efforts to locate and capture the killers of Sumera are stalled, going nowhere. It is not even clear who or what agency is following up the case.

“Two years ago, the Philippine National Police formed the so-called ‘Task Force Usig’ to investigate not only the killing of Sumera but of other media workers. Its head Police Superintendent (Lt. Col.) Henry Libay, however, told The Manila Times that the case is now being followed up by the Malabon City’s police.

“Task Force Usig’ said that the case is being handled by Malabon Police’s Police Officer III (sergeant) Gerry de la Torre, Police Officer III Rommel Habig and Police Officer 2 (Corporal) Patrick Alvarado.

“Dela Torre however told The Manila Times that ‘he lost track of the case’ since he had been taking up courses for his promotion. He said that Habig has been the officer in charge of the case.

“Habig, however, said all the documents has been turned over to the Department of Justice as the case depository on the request made by a group of journalists.

“The ‘prosecutor general’ had approved of their request that’s why all pertinent documents to the case has been turned over to the department of justice,’ Habig said.”

And without the “documents,” how could he be investigating the case?

What a liar
“We’ll get Sumera’s killers soon,” Aquino boasted nearly three years ago. What a liar. Or maybe, what sheer incompetence.

Sumera’s killing was one of the high-profile cases among the 24 journalists killed during Aquino’s term. It turns out that the case was turned over first to a police sergeant and then a corporal. But then the sergeant excuses himself, saying he’s been busy with his studies to get a promotion, while the corporal says he turned over the case to the DOJ.

If this administration can’t solve the Sumera case, even to the point of humiliating Aquino who practically announced “case closed” and that it would be only a matter of time for the killers to be arrested, I don’t think any of the other 22 journalists killed will be given justice.

Worse, it emboldens more media murders, as it has in fact occurred with the killing last week of Mindanao broadcast journalist Joash Dignos last week.

What is sad so that our press organizations, for all their press releases expressing concern over media killing, aren’t really pressuring this government to go after the murderers. They aren’t even monitoring the status of the investigations of the killings.

For example, The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility responded after a week to my query on Sumera’s case, with a terse reply: “The case is still pending before the Department of Justice,” which as I explained above isn’t really the case: It’s stalled at that department. Worse, its one-page “case profile” merely quoted press reports that parroted the police line that it was a communist hit squad which murdered Sumera.

Press releases every time another journalist is killed, wont’ stop the media murders. It doesn’t require much thinking for our media organizations to undertake three steps:

§ Demand a monthly detailed report on the police’s or that Task Force Usig’s (if it really exists) investigation of each case of media killings.

§ Set up its own task force to meet with ranking PNP or DOJ officials to follow up each case of a media man killed.

§ Raise a Media Defense Fund, to finance private investigators to probe the killings, and to pay the legal fees of attorneys who would follow up cases when suspects are charged in the courts.

We’re supposed to protect our own, aren’t we?