Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco, Executive Director of Presidential Task Force on Media Security. (PNA File photo)

MANILA – Murder charges have been filed against three suspects in connection with the killing of journalist Jupiter Gonzales and his friend, Christopher Tiongson, the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) reported on Tuesday.  

PTFoMS Executive Director, Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco announced this latest development during the 67th anniversary of the National Press Club (NPC). Gonzales was a longtime member of the club, the largest group of working journalists in the country.  

Citing a report from Police Lt. Col Dale Soliba, Chief of Police of Arayat, Pampanga, Egco said double murder charges have been filed before the Pampanga Prosecutors Office in San Fernando City on Oct. 28, docketed as Case No.  III-12-INV-19J 01409, against primary suspect Armando Velasco, and his two accomplices -- Edgardo Cabrera and a ‘John Doe’.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar, who is also PTFoMS co-chair, once again lauded the PTFoMS staff, its agents and the local Philippine National Police for the quick resolution of the twin slays. 

"I congratulate the PTFoMS, the PNP, and everyone who worked hard in accomplishing the mission this early. We are indeed very grateful for your work," said Andanar, who was NPC anniversary guest of honor and main speaker.  

The announcement coincided with the release of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Global Impunity Index (GII) for 2019 report, which ranked the Philippines, again, as the 5th most dangerous for journalists, owing largely to the still unresolved Ampatuan Massacre case where 58 civilians, including 32 journalists, were killed in what would be known as the single deadliest attack on members of the media.  

Expected CPJ report

Egco said the latest CPJ report was “expected”, stressing that the massacre case, which is now nearing promulgation, has been keeping the country on the list since 2009. 

He, however, expressed strong confidence that by 2020, the country would be given a much-improved ranking.  

“The CPJ report is not surprising and was actually expected. In fact, we have been anticipating that because for as long as the massacre case remains in the equation, following the methodology used by CPJ, we shall remain on that list,” he said.  

He added that the report covered a 10-year period from August 2009 to August this year.

“The massacre happened in November 2009. With great confidence, I could say that either way, once promulgated and the suspects convicted, come the next report period covering August 2010 up to August 2020, the massacre case will be out of the equation,” Egco said. “Thus, we are looking at a much better and improved ranking for the Philippines.’

At this time, he said, they are clarifying with CPJ some gray areas in their methodology, such as the inclusion on their list of cases that were deemed not related to media work.  

The recent CPJ report said: “The Philippines has been among the worst five countries nearly every year since the index was first published in 2008. The country’s fifth-worst ranking is due in part to the deadly ambush of 58 individuals, including 32 journalists and media workers, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, on November 23, 2009.”  

It added that while “the trial of over 100 suspects behind the massacre is due to conclude this year, as of August 31, 2019 — the final date CPJ counted convictions for this year’s index — no verdict had been announced.”  

Egco said while it was unfortunate that one case, probably that of Kidapawan broadcaster Eduardo Dizon, was added to the 2018 list of unresolved cases in the country, the PTFoMS finds it “appalling” that the CPJ formula does not factor on sincere government efforts in holding perpetrators to account by running after and eventually filing charges against them.  

“I have already established contact with CPJ Southeast Asia representative, Shawn Crispin, and raised our concern. There is something amiss in their methodology such as that if state action would not be considered, and that’s for all countries they cover, then they are not helping at all. Impunity, or even complete impunity, means there was no action taken at all in any particular state. And that is definitely not the case in the Philippines,” he added.  

As expected, the CPJ list remained on its 2018 level with Somalia, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, and the Philippines still comprising the top five positions.    

Meanwhile, Egco said the PTFoMS shall relentlessly act on all cases of violence, threats or murders of media workers.

The agency, he said, has effectively investigated, monitored and acted on every incident brought to it, including the filing of charges against suspects in both work-related and non-work-related deaths of journalists.  

Come January 2020, the Task Force will embark on yearlong, countrywide safety seminars for media workers by competent security experts and professionals.

PTFoMS has also strengthened its engagements with both local and international stakeholders to include projects with UNESCO and the International Media Support (IMS), among others. (PNA)