Investigation: Despite a long legal battle, the alleged mastermind of the murder of a courageous Filipino journalist is still at large

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The Murder of Gerry Ortega: Justice Delayed; justice denied is the fourth of a series of investigations as a member of A safer world for the truth initiative, a project of leading press freedom organizations Unlimited free press (FPU), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Journalists Protection Committee (CPJ) which investigates the killings through a series of cold case investigations, ongoing advocacy efforts and the People’s Court on the Murder of Journalists.

Gerry Ortega was found dead on January 24, 2011 in Palawan, a province located in the west of the Philippine archipelago. His murder is indicative of structural problems regarding the safety of journalists in the Philippines: while contract killers are often arrested, the powerful masterminds behind the murders of journalists often escape justice.

Attacks on the media have intensified under President Rodrigo Duterte, but the Philippines has long been a dangerous country for journalists. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) noted that Ortega was the 142nd journalist to be killed since 1986. The country has also consistently ranked among the top CPJ Impunity Indexranking as the seventh worst country in 2021.

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Gerry Ortega was a prominent broadcast journalist, with a particular focus on environmental issues in the province of Palawan. Ortega’s work informing the public about corruption and corruption in the provincial government made him a target for those in power. He was not afraid to openly criticize local politicians such as then-Governor Joel T. Reyes for alleged corruption, publicly opposing Palawan mining projects.

The report reveals that alleged mastermind Reyes – who has considerable influence in the Palawan region – has evaded justice for more than a decade. More than 10 years after Ortega’s murder, multiple court rulings have delayed the case, leaving Ortega’s family without justice or answers. The lengthy legal battle has also exposed them and key witnesses to security risks. The suspicious death of a key witness and the recent attack on another, as detailed in the inquest, are prominent examples of how those involved in the case have also been silenced.

One of the report’s most concerning findings concerns flaws during the court proceedings, such as the first panel of prosecutors’ rejection of significant independent and supporting evidence that Reyes orchestrated the murder. The report also sheds light on how Reyes still wields considerable influence over local public officials in Palawan as he contests the upcoming elections this year.

Regular monitoring by the DoJ is necessary

In light of these findings, A safer world for the truth recommends several concrete steps that must be taken in order to achieve justice for Ortega and prevent impunity in future cases of murders of journalists in the Philippines. These include urging the Philippine National Police to prioritize holding Reyes accountable by ensuring that the Criminal Investigations Division group that is part of the National Police act on his arrest warrant. The report also urges the Philippine Department of Justice (DoJ) to regularly monitor and assess cases of journalist murders to ensure prompt investigation and effective response to any shortcomings in the prosecution of these cases.

The report also says the international community has a role to play in ending impunity for Ortega’s murder by building sustained public pressure and monitoring the progress of Reyes’ prosecution. At the request of Philippine authorities or Ortega’s family, resources and expertise should be made available by the international community to boost the investigation and prosecution.

Jos Bartman, principal investigator of the survey at FPU (FPU), says: “It has been 10 years since the murder of Gerry Ortega. This case represents a much larger problem of powerful local actors who can escape justice after the murder of a journalist. After 10 years, the delay of justice becomes the denial of justice. With this investigation, we aim to contribute to justice for Gerry Ortega and his family. Lessons learned should provide opportunities for justice to prevail immediately in future cases of journalist murders.

Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior representative for Southeast Asia, says: “The unsolved murder of Gerry Ortega is emblematic of the Philippines’ deeply unsolved problem of impunity in media murder cases. Until justice is served for Ortega’s murder, a climate of fear will persist for all Filipino journalists reporting on important issues such as local corruption and abuse of official power. How many more Gerry Ortegas will it take before the Philippine authorities take seriously the problem of impunity in the country? »

Daniel Bastard, Asia-Pacific director of RSF, says: “Since the start of Duterte’s tenure, the Philippines has fallen 11 places and currently sits at 136th in the 2021 RSF World Press Freedom Index. Change must happen. We support the call for the appointment of a new Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the Safety of Journalists. For the important case of Gerry Ortega, a UN special representative could stay in regular contact with the Department of Justice of the Republic of the Philippines to encourage them to take up the case.

Previous surveys and recommendations can be viewed at https://www.saferworldforthetruth.com/investigations

Press contacts:

CPJ (New York): Gypsy Guillén Kaiser – [email protected]

FPU (Amsterdam): Evelien Wijkstra – [email protected]

RSF (Paris): Pauline Adès-Mével – [email protected]

Spokespersons are available for interviews in English, French, Spanish and Dutch

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