February 8, 2015 · Posted in: Access to Information, Free Expression - Asia, Freedom of Information, Governance, Human Rights, Image Galleries, In the News, Journalist Killings, Maguindanao Massacre, Media
No mastermind convicted yet for media killings since 1986
By Cong B. Corrales
LAST WEEK’S conviction of one of the persons accused of the 2010 murder of broadcaster Miguel Belen is but the 14th conviction among 172 cases filed in court against suspected killers of journalists and media workers.
Not a single one of those convicted was a mastermind.
Judge Timothy Panga of Regional Trial Court Branch 60 in Camarines Sur sentenced Eric Vargas to reclusion perpetua or imprisonment of up to 40 years for the murder of Belen who was shot on July 9, 2010 while on his way home to Barangay Francia in Sorsogon City.
Belen was working with radio station dwEB-FM. He died of injuries he sustained at a hospital on July 31 that year.
Notwithstanding the verdict, we note that after a case that had run for close to five years, full justice remains elusive because another suspect, Gina Bagacina, who media reports say is a New People’s Army member, remains at large. And given the fact that Belen was known to be tackling politics and corruption at the time of his death, it is most likely that the investigation into the murder has failed to identify the mastermind…Nevertheless, the conviction of Vargas provides a ray of hope in a country where very, very few cases of media killings even reach the courts due to inept investigation or the actual involvement of local executives and the police in many of the murders. – National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
While in the Intensive Care Unit, Belen had identified Vargas and Gina Bagacina from the rogues’ gallery of the Philippine National Police. Bagacina is reportedly a member of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Judge Banga also ordered Vargas to indemnify the Belens the amount of P150,000 for “moral and exemplary damages and to pay the cost of litigation.”
Bagacina is still at large.
Bicol News has quoted Belen’s widow Maryjane as saying: “I was not able to sleep for the past three nights in anticipation of this day.”
“She (Maryjane) said it was triumph for them and for those who sought justice for slain media men as she thanked all organizations who assisted them in the fight for justice especially the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP),” the Bicol News report reads in part.
The online news portal also quoted Belen’s only daughter, Karen, saying that Panga’s decision was worth the wait and now they have “good news for papa on his anniversary.”
In an emailed reply, Friday, NUJP national chair Rowena Paraan said that while the NUJP welcomes the conviction of Vargas, as it “provides a ray of hope for other cases of media murders in the Philippines, it must be noted that convictions of journalist killers are very few and far between.
“We welcome this conviction but we also demand a more determined effort on the part of PNP and DOJ so that more cases get filed and thus more convictions could be secured,” said Paraan.
But the reality is, she said, only a handful of cases reach the courts because of “inept investigation or actual involvement of local executives and the police in many of the cases.”
Of they 23 media killing cases recorded in the first 40 months of President Benigno S. Aquino III, only four cases undergoing trial , five have been filed with the Prosecutor’s Office, 11 are still under police investigation, one is still under preliminary investigation by the Department of Justice, and two others have been classified by PNP-Task Force Usig as “cold cases.
Click on the photo below to read the PCIJ article “23 journalists killed in 40 month of PNoy, worst case load since ’86”
For its part, the NUJP Camarines Sur Chapter issued a statement that the conviction had taken a long time and does not offer complete relief because Bagacina is still at large.
Justice for our fallen colleague might have been a hard and arduous journey but the least we can say is that justice… long overdue, is common stuff in our justice system,” the NUJP-CamSur statement read.