Sep 282014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MANILA1595 2005-04-06 08:09 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manila
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 001595



E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/06/2015


¶B. MANILA 0312
¶C. 04 MANILA 5775
¶D. 04 MANILA 5220

Classified By: Political Officer Timothy L. Cipullo
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (U) Summary: The shooting of a well-known journalist in
Mindanao on March 24 marked what media organizations say is
the fourth of a journalist this year and has sparked new
public outrage. The House of Representatives plans a hearing
and the Catholic Church has condemned the attack. The
Philippine National Police (PNP) announced that “Task Force
Newsmen,” a group within the PNP focused on investigating
killings of journalists, is actively investigating this and
other cases. Local police have filed charges against the
suspected killer, but have not yet made an arrest.
Journalist organizations are focused on further raising
public awareness of journalist killings and educating their
members to minimize the chances of becoming a target. The
latest killing again highlights how dangerous the profession
of journalism is in the Philippines. Mission has underscored
to the GRP the need for a firm clampdown on the perpetrators
of the attacks. End Summary.

Latest Killing

¶2. (U) On March 24, Marlyne Esperat died when an assailant
shot her in her home in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat,
southern Mindanao. Esperat’s killing is the fourth of a
journalist this year, according to media organizations,
although the police say it is the second (see para 6). There
were 10 such killings last year. Esperat, a well-known
columnist with the weekly newspaper “Midland Review,” was
known as a fierce anti-corruption crusader. She had filed
several graft cases against local and national government
officials, as well as against a police chief who may have
been implicated in her murder (see para 4).

Condemnation from many Sectors

¶3. (U) The Esperat killing sparked fresh outrage. The
Committee on Human Rights in the House of Representatives
plans an inquiry into Esperat’s murder when the House
reconvenes on April 11. Committee Chairperson Rep. Loretta
Ann Rosales urged police to arrest Esperat’s killers and
exhorted those with information about the killing to
cooperate with investigators. Rosales told the “Manila
Standard” that “the job of journalists is indispensable in
the delivery of information to the public and in the search
for truth. It is absolutely wrong to kill them as
retaliation for their work.” The Catholic Church also
strongly condemned the killing. Archbishop of Lingayan Oscar
Cruz issued a scathing commentary on the Catholic Bishop’s
Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website, declaring that
the Philippines has become a “dangerous country,” as he
called on the GRP to take firm steps to apprehend the
perpetrators of the attacks.

PNP Investigation Turns up — Jack

¶4. (C) New Director General of the Philippine National
Police Arturo C. Lomibao assured Pol/C on April 6 that the
PNP was actively investigating this and other journalist
cases, and noted that he had personally been in touch with
the victim’s family. He said that he believed local police
had identified two suspects by description and had filed
charges against the actual killer by name on April 5 or 6.
Separately, Senior PNP Superintendent Frederick Oconer told
poloff that the PNP is closely examining reports that the
chief of police of General Santos City, Senior Superintendent
Willie Dangane (a National Food Authority contractor and a
former politician), was involved in the murder. Esperat had
filed an obstruction of justice case involving allegations of
graft against Superintendent Dangane, which was still pending
at the time of her murder. The PNP has already relieved
Dangane of his post and placed him on “floating” status,
pending the outcome of the investigation. One of Oconer’s
subordinates confirmed to poloff on April 6 that local
authorities had filed charges against one suspect on April 5,
but had not yet made any arrest. However, police had so far
only identified the suspect — the alleged triggerman — by
the alias “Jack.” He could not confirm whether the police
had established any links between the suspect and Dangane.

¶5. (C) Oconor confirmed that “Task Force Newsmen” is leading
the GRP’s investigation of Esperat’s murder, as well as the
investigations into the other killings. The President formed
the Task Force from within the Criminal Investigation and
Detection Group (CIDG) of the PNP on July 22, 2004. Of the
58 cases involving the murders of journalists since 1986,
authorities have filed charges in 29 cases, according to the
latest Task Force report. Three cases have been dismissed
due to lack of evidence and 21 cases are still under trial.
Oconer also noted that five people have been convicted of
killing journalists since 1986, with the last conviction
occurring in 1999. Journalist watchdog groups claim that
only two people have been convicted.

¶6. (C) According to Oconer, police have made no arrests in
the other cases of journalist killings this year, in large
part due to a lack of witnesses. Task Force Newsmen puts the
number of killings of journalists at only two for 2005,
asserting that two other killings cited by journalist
watchdog groups were not work-related. Many potential
witnesses are often afraid to testify for fear of retaliation
by the killers, he added. The PNP, working with other GRP
agencies, has tried to protect witnesses, but Oconer admitted
that the GRP has had great difficulty doing so. (Comment:
The concerns of potential witnesses were no doubt reinforced
recently when gunmen killed Edgar Amoro, a schoolteacher and
freelance broadcaster who was a key witness to the 2002
killing of journalist Edgar Demalerio. Amoro became the
second witness to the Demalerio murder to be killed, despite
the fact that he was in a witness protection program run by
the Department of Justice. End comment)

Journalists React

¶7. (SBU) In reaction to the spate of killings, professional
journalist organizations have been striving to raise public
awareness in order to put more pressure on the GRP to bring
perpetrators to justice. This latest killing has garnered
more attention than previous murders, in large part because
of Esperat’s flamboyant style and reputation as an aggressive
whistleblower. The Philippine Center for Investigative
Journalism prepared a sympathetic feature on the life of
Esperat, which many news outlets carried.

¶8. (C) Press organizations such as the National Union of
Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) are also trying to work
closely with authorities. Carlos Conde, Secretary General of
NUJP and the local stringer for “The New York Times,” told
poloff that the PNP had invited NUJP to join the
investigation into the Esperat killing and that NUJP had
agreed to help where it could. Some press organizations are
also taking matters into their own hands. The Freedom Fund
for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) has published a guidebook
titled “Staying Alive” that offers advice to journalists on
how not to become a target and how to survive violent
attacks. Additionally, after the killing of the second
witness to the Demalerio murder, the FFFJ moved the third
(and last remaining living) witness to a hiding place in
Manila from his home in Pagadian City in Mindanao. The FFFJ
also relocated the wives of Amoro and Demalerio for their

¶9. (C) Mission contacts have admitted that journalists in
the Philippines frequently make powerful enemies (and thus
become potential targets) by practicing “envelope”
journalism, i.e., writing articles with a certain slant in
exchange for money. It is difficult to quantify the
prevalence of envelope journalism, but many believe it
widespread in the coverage of local and national politics.
Many journalists reportedly cast a blind eye to the practice
in order to “protect” their colleagues. Mission is actively
working with the Philippine Center for Investigative
Journalism (PCIJ), the Center for Media Freedom and
Responsibility (CMFR), and university-based institutions to
conduct training programs for journalists with the aim of
increasing professionalization and at least to discourage
corrupt practices. Missionoffs have also underscored to the
GRP the need for a firm clampdown on the perpetrators of the
attacks, and continue to work on many fronts to raise respect
for the rule of law via targeted diplomatic and
assistance-related efforts.



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