Although the Philippines has one of the freest presses in Asia, the country was the deadliest in the region for journalists for the second consecutive year. Eight journalists – primarily rural radio broadcasters – were gunned down in retaliation for their work in 2004. (Five reporters died in the line of duty in 2003, according to CPJ research.) Worldwide, the media casualty rate in the Philippines was second only to Iraq.

Far from any international war zone, the press in the Philippines did their combat duty at home, where they faced political corruption, a breakdown in law and order, and a widespread culture of impunity that perpetuated violence against journalists.

Six of the eight journalists murdered in 2004 were known for hard-hitting political reporting or commentary on local community radio stations, according to CPJ research. Rampant corruption and powerful criminal groups plague the political system in the country's rural areas, making it very dangerous for reporters to criticize or anger provincial politicians, according to local journalists. Provincial leaders from family-run political dynasties sometimes abuse their power to dominate entire regions, controlling even the local police.

In February, gunmen shot and killed outspoken radio commentator Rowell Endrinal in the eastern Albay Province while he was leaving his house for work. Endrinal hosted a political commentary program on DZRC radio, published the regional newspaper Bicol Metro News, and was known for his criticism of corrupt local officials and criminal gangs. In June, Elpidio Binoya, another radio commentator who frequently delivered pointed political commentaries on Radyo Natin, was ambushed on the southern island of Mindanao. Binoya had been beaten a week before the murder, and a local police chief told The Associated Press that the journalist had enemies among local politicians.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo condemned the killings and ordered the creation of a police task force dedicated to solving the murders of journalists. But the death toll mounted later in the summer, when two more journalists were shot dead in one week. Roger Mariano, a radio commentator from the northern Ilocos Norte Province, was shot in the head while driving home on July 31. Local journalists said Mariano's murder came in retaliation for his aggressive journalism, and that he had denounced illegal gambling in his final broadcast. Five days later, Arnnel Manalo – a correspondent for the Manila-based tabloid Bulgar and the local radio station DZRH – was killed on his way home by gunmen allegedly hired by a local politician in Batangas Province, 60 miles (96 kilometers) south of the capital, Manila.

Outraged by the murders, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines staged demonstrations attended by hundreds of journalists around the country to protest the violence and demand justice for the slain reporters. Journalists also formed their own task force to help probe the killings in cooperation with the Philippine National Police. CPJ spotlighted the issue by naming the Philippines to its annual list of the "World's Worst Places to Be a Journalist."

Government officials have offered rewards for information leading to the arrest of anyone connected with the murders. Police officials even suggested that journalists arm themselves. But local press freedom advocates accused the government of paying lip service to the problem. At year's end, there were no convictions in any of the eight murder cases – or in any of 48 journalist murders since democracy was restored in the Philippines in 1986, according to CPJ research.

International attention grew as the carnage continued into the fall. Tabloid correspondent Romeo, or Romy, Binungcal was killed by gunmen who fired five shots at him at close range in Bataan Province on September 29. He was known for his reporting on corrupt officials. A radio commentator who frequently spoke out against illegal gambling and the local drug trade, Eldy Sablas, was shot dead October 19.

Then, in one bloody weekend, two more journalists were slain. An unidentified gunman shot photographer Gene Boyd Lumawag, of the MindaNews news service, in the head while he was on assignment in Jolo, the capital of the southern Sulu Province, on November 12. The next day, radio commentator Herson Hinolan was gunned down in the restroom of a local store in Kalibo, in the central Panay Island.

Some potential breakthroughs were reported. Two suspects in Binoya's murder surrendered to police in August; one was a political leader suspected of masterminding the killing. The same month, two suspects were identified in the Manalo slaying; a local politician was implicated in that case, too.

Progress was also made in an earlier high-profile case: the 2002 shooting death of journalist Edgar Damalerio. The main suspect, former police officer Guillermo Wapile, surrendered to authorities on September 12. Witnesses identified Wapile as the gunman responsible for shooting Damalerio in Pagadian City, on the southern island of Mindanao. Although investigators recommended at the time that Wapile be arrested, he was only briefly detained and released in May 2002. In January 2003, he was taken into custody again but escaped two days later before a judge could issue an arrest warrant. Wapile was formally charged with Damalerio's murder, and he was expected to go on trial in 2005, according to local journalists.

2004 Documented Cases – The Philippines

FEBRUARY 11, 2004
Posted: February 11, 2004

Ruel Endrinal, DZRC

At about 6:20 a.m. today, two unidentified gunmen shot Endrinal, a commentator on radio station DZRC in Legazpi City, Albay Province in the eastern Philippines, as he was leaving his house for the radio station. The local police chief, Jaime Lazar, told journalists that the assailants shot Endrinal in the foot, and then continued shooting him in the head and body as he fell.

Endrinal hosted a political commentary show on DZRC in which he spoke out against local politicians and criminal gangs, said the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR). He also published a regional newspaper Bicol Metro News.

Police do not have any suspects in the case. However, according to CMFR, police are holding two witnesses who can identify the assailants and who saw the gunmen in the area in the days prior to the murder. Endrinal's wife and colleagues said that he had recently received death threats.

MAY 9, 2004
Posted: May 14, 2004

Bombo Radyo

On the eve of Philippine elections, the national Commission on Elections (Comelec) shut two radio stations run by the private network Bombo Radyo, located in Cauayan City, Isabela Province, on the island of Luzon. This is the second time this year that the stations, DWIT and DZNC, have been forced to close.

After protests from Bombo Radyo directors, Comelec re-examined its May 9 decision, which had been signed by only two of the commission's seven members. Comelec reversed its order unanimously, and the stations reopened on May 17.

On Feb. 17, Cauayan City's government, led by Mayor Caesar Dy, ordered the police to close the stations because they allegedly failed to submit documents required for renewing their business license and zoning clearance. But Comelec ordered the stations to reopen in a ruling on March 23. Following the order, Bombo Radyo resumed operations in Cauayan, but police officials again closed the stations hours later. The stations reopened on March 30.

Charmy Sabigan, station manager of DZNC, told CPJ that the stations had submitted proper documentation on time.

Local journalists and press freedom organizations condemned the closures and said the actions were politically motivated. Bombo Radyo, known for its pointed political coverage, has been critical of Mayor Dy and other members of the Dy family serving as elected officials in the area.

On June 10, the day after the official elections period ended in the Philippines, the mayor's office ordered the stations closed again. Sabigan told CPJ that Bombo Radyo officials had applied in May for a court injunction blocking the mayor's office from issuing another closure order. The petition is still pending in the local Appeals Court, Sabigan said.

JUNE 8, 2004
Posted: June 16, 2004

Cirse Torralba (a.k.a. Choy Torralba), DYAR Angel Radio

An unidentified assailant shot at Torralba, a veteran radio commentator and producer for DYAR Angel Radio, in an apparent assassination attempt outside the radio station in Cebu City, Cebu Province. Angel Radio is run by the Nation Broadcasting Corporation, a private network.

According to local news reports, Torralba sustained three injuries in his left arm and shoulder before he shot back with his own gun, missing his assailant but forcing him to flee the scene. Torralba was rushed to a local hospital, where his condition stabilized.

Torralba is known as a hard-hitting commentator and has frequently denounced local drug cartels and political corruption. Local journalists have linked the attack to Torralba's work as a commentator, according to articles and editorials in local newspapers.

The police have launched an investigation and are looking into other possible motives, including the broadcaster's political activity. Torralba worked as a campaign manager for Loren Legarda, who ran as an opposition candidate for vice president in national elections in May.

On June 10, local police arrested a suspect in the shooting. Mario Monilar, police homicide section chief, told the Cebu-based daily Freeman that the police were investigating the possibility that the motive behind the attack involved an alleged former girlfriend of Torralba's. Torralba denied that he had had a relationship with the woman in question, the Freeman reported.

JUNE 17, 2004
Posted: June 17, 2004
Updated: August 16, 2004
Updated August 25, 2004

Eliseo ("Ely") Binoya, Radyo Natin

Binoya, a radio commentator and local station manager with Radyo Natin, was gunned down outside the port city General Santos, on the southern island of Mindanao, according to local news reports. Binoya was known for his pointed political commentaries on air.
Binoya was on his way home in the afternoon when two gunmen on a motorcycle ambushed him along a highway on the outskirts of the city. The assailants chased down Binoya, who was also riding a motorcycle, and shot him several times from behind. The shots killed him instantly, according to news reports. The gunmen then fled the scene.

General Santos Police Chief Willie Dangane said that Binoya had made enemies among politicians in the southern town of Malungon, where his station is based, and that he had been beaten the week before his killing, according to The Associated Press.

In early August, the General Santos City Prosecutor's Office found "probable cause for murder qualified by treachery and evident premeditation" against local political leader Ephraim "Toto" Englis, and identified two other individuals allegedly involved in the killing, according to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), a local press freedom organization.

Englis and a second suspect, Alfonso Tuquero, surrendered to local police on August 23, and Dangane initiated the filing of murder charges against the two, according to The Philippine Star. In his broadcasts, Binoya had accused Englis of bribery, according to CMFR. Englis and Tuquero denied involvement in the slaying.

Local journalist groups condemned Binoya's murder and called for an end to violence against the press.

JULY 31, 2004
Updated: September 14, 2004

Rogelio "Roger" Mariano, Radyo Natin-Aksyon Radyo

Mariano, a commentator for Radyo Natin-Aksyon Radyo, was fatally shot by unidentified gunmen in Laoag City, the capital of Ilocos Norte Province, according to news reports.

Mariano was riding his motorcycle home after completing a broadcast at DZJC Radyo Natin-Aksyon Radyo when assailants shot him several times in the back and head.

Local journalists believe that Mariano's death was connected to his hard-hitting commentaries. The veteran broadcaster's final program denounced illegal jueteng gambling operations in the city, as well as financial irregularities in the local electric cooperative. Ilocos Norte police are investigating.

AUGUST 5, 2004
Posted: August 27, 2004

Arnel Manalo, Bulgar and DZRH Radio

Gunmen ambushed and killed Manalo, 42, a correspondent for the Manila tabloid Bulgar and radio station DZRH, in the morning, shortly after he dropped off his children at school, according to international news reports and local journalists.

Two men on a motorcycle shot Manalo three times at 7:15 a.m. while he was returning home in Bauan, Batangas Province, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of the capital, Manila, according to news reports. Manalo was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

On August 26, police arrested suspected gunman Michael Garcia, according to local news reports. Police believe that Garcia was hired by local political leader Tony Mendoza, who has not yet been charged with murder.

The journalist's brother Apollo Manalo was riding in the victim's car when he was killed. Police filed charges against Garcia after Apollo identified the suspect from police records, according to local news reports.

Police suspect that Manalo was killed for his reporting on Mendoza, according to local news reports.

The Philippines is one of the world's most dangerous places to be a journalist. Since the Philippines became a democracy in 1986, forty-five journalists have been killed for their work.

AUGUST 12, 2004
Posted: August 16, 2004

Fernando Consignado, Radio Veritas

Consignado, a correspondent with the Manila-based Radio Veritas, was found dead in his home in the town of Nagcarlan, 47 miles (75 kilometers) south of the capital, Manila, according to local news reports. The journalist died of a single gunshot wound to the head, according to police investigators. CPJ is investigating whether his murder was tied to his work as a journalist.

Consignado, 50, was a vegetable farmer and a reporter on community affairs for the Roman Catholic radio station. Colleagues at Radio Veritas said Consignado's slaying might have been related to his reporting a few years ago on illegal gambling and anomalies in local road construction projects, according to a local news report. Police also cited Consignado's recent involvement in a land dispute as a possible motive behind his death and said that he was overheard arguing with an unnamed relative shortly before a neighbor found him dead, according to local news reports. No suspects have been identified.

SEPTEMBER 29, 2004
Posted: October 19, 2004

Romeo (or Romy) Binungcal, Remate and Bulgar

Binungcal, a correspondent for two national Manila-based tabloids, Remate and Bulgar, was killed while riding home on his motorcycle in Bataan Province, in the central Luzon Region. Unidentified gunmen fired five shots at close range, according to local and international news reports.

Local journalists say his murder came in retaliation for his reporting on corrupt provincial police. Sources tell CPJ that the murder may have been committed on the orders of local police officers who lost their jobs as a result of Binungcal's reporting

The reporter, identified as either Romeo or Romy Binungcal in press accounts, was the former editor of the local Mt. Samat Weekly Forum.

Police told local reporters that there is no known motive for the killing, but that they have launched an investigation. Binungcal was a businessman in addition to working as a journalist, but he was well-known for his reporting on corrupt officials. According to CPJ research, Binungcal was the fifth journalist killed in the line of duty in the Philippines in 2004.

OCTOBER 19, 2004
Updated: November 4, 2004

Eldy Sablas (also known as Eldy Gabinales), Radio DXJR-FM

An unidentified assailant shot Sablas three times from behind about 10 a.m. as the radio commentator rode a three-wheeled motorcycle away from a supermarket in Surigao del Sur Province on the southern island of Mindanao. Local sources told CPJ that Sablas was likely killed in retaliation for his hard-hitting commentary about illegal gambling.

Sablas, who hosted "Singgit sa mga Lungsuranon" ("Cry of the People") on Radio DXJR-FM, was known as a strident critic of both gambling and the drug trade. Regional Police Chief Rene Elumbaring told The Associated Press that police were investigating the murder, which occurred in the town of Tandag, 510 miles (820 kilometers) southeast of Manila.

NOVEMBER 12, 2004
Posted: November 15, 2004

Gene Boyd Lumawag, MindaNews

An unidentified gunman shot photographer Lumawag, of the MindaNews news service, in the head, killing him instantly in Jolo, the capital of the southern Sulu Province.

At dusk that day, Lumawag went to the pier in Jolo to take a picture of the sunset on the last day of Ramadan in the Muslim-majority area when he was shot and killed by a single bullet wound to the head, according to local news accounts. Lumawag, 26, had traveled to Jolo with another reporter on November 10 to work on a video documentary about transparency and local governing practices for the U.S.-based Asia Foundation.

Sulu Province, comprising a group of islands 310 miles (500 kilometers) south of the capital, Manila, has a Muslim-majority population and is a bastion for the Islamic separatist group Abu Sayyaf, The Associated Press reported. Abu Sayyaf has been linked to the international terrorist group al-Qaeda and has made headlines in recent years with high-profile kidnappings for ransom. The island province is also a stronghold for Jemaah Islamiah, another militant Islamic separatist group suspected of masterminding the 2002 Bali bombing that is linked to Abu Sayyaf, according to local sources.

The exact motive for Lumawag's murder was unclear, and local police and army spokesmen put forward different theories. Army investigators told Mindanews chairwoman Carolyn Arguillas, who had accompanied Lumawag, that they suspected Abu Sayyaf members were responsible for the killing. The head of the local antiterrorism unit, Brig. Gen. Agustin Dema-ala, also claimed in local news reports that the gunman's description matched that of a wanted local Abu Sayyaf operative.

But in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, local police head, Chief Superintendent Vidal Querol, said that the corruption story the two journalists were pursuing was the likely motive. Local news accounts also speculated that Lumawag might have been mistaken as a spy or member of the military because the clothes he had on that day resembled fatigues, and the fact that he spoke Filipino instead of the local Tausig language.

According to CPJ research, six other journalists have been killed in the line of duty in the Philippines so far this year, more than in any other country except Iraq. Forty-seven journalists have been murdered in the Philippines since the country became a democracy in 1986, and no one has been convicted in any of these cases.

NOVEMBER 16, 2004
Posted: November 15, 2004

Herson Hinolan, Bombo Radiyo

Hinolan, station manager and commentator from Bombo Radiyo in Kalibo in the central Aklan Province, was fatally injured night when he was shot in the abdomen and arms in the restroom of a local store, police told local reporters.

Although no motive has been determined yet in the murder, Hinolan was known as a "hard-hitting commentator," local Chief Superintendent George Alino told Agence France-Presse. In a statement, Bombo Radyo managers accused "assassins" of "killing the messenger who is tasked to serve the public by way of exposing the truth." The station offered a reward for any information leading to the identification or capture of those responsible for Hinolan's murder.

CPJ is investigating Hinolan's death to determine if he was killed for his work as a journalist.

NOVEMBER 27, 2004
Posted: November 29, 2004

Allan Dizon, The Freeman and Banat

Dizon, a photographer for the English-language newspaper The Freeman and a correspondent for the local tabloid Banat, was shot and killed in Cebu City. CPJ is seeking to determine whether the journalist's murder was related to his work.

Dizon, 31, was shot in the head and chest near a car wash in Cebu City in central Philippines, about 350 miles (565 kilometers) south of Manila, according to local news reports. The unidentified gunman fired at point-blank range, and shot again as Dizon tried to run away. The journalist died just before 8:30 p.m. at Cebu City Medical Center, according to news reports.

Police have ascribed no motive in the killing, although local sources told CPJ that the murder may be related to Dizon's reporting on illegal gambling.

Dizon's wife, Amelina, told local reporters that the journalist had not received any threats before his death. Colleagues said Dizon appeared preoccupied before leaving his office, and police are investigating text messages on the journalist's cell phone indicating that he had planned to meet someone he knew at the car wash, according to news reports.

In the days following Dizon's murder, the offices of The Freeman received two phone calls threatening other journalists at the newspaper, according to news reports.

NOVEMBER 27, 2004
Posted: December 02, 2004

Stephen Omaois, Guru Press

Omaois' body was found in a garbage bin on the outskirts of Tabuk in remote Kalinga Province. Police believe Omaois, 24, was bludgeoned to death, according to international news reports.

Omaois, a writer for the community newspaper Guru Press, had been reporting on a public works project in the town of Pinukpok, according to the Philippine Inquirer, quoting Guru Press editor Estafania Kollin. The Inquirer reported that staff members at Guru Press had received threats related to the story, and that Omaois may have been targeted because he was "vulnerable."

The Inquirer reported that Omaois' body showed evidence of torture. Police have not determined a motive in the killing, but are investigating relatives' claims that Omaois was abducted on the day before he was killed, according to Agence France-Presse. The Committee to Protect Journalists is seeking to determine whether Omaois' murder was connected to his reporting.

It was not immediately clear what Omaois had written about the Pinukpok project. Omaois was also a broadcast journalist for government-run radio DZRK.

Kalinga Province is an isolated and mountainous region about 200 miles (330 kilometers) north of Manila. Populated by several indigenous tribal communities, it has been the breeding ground for a low-level Communist insurgency.

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