MANILA – For better and tighter coordination between law enforcement agencies, the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) has announced that it has taken over the probe into the gruesome murder of broadcaster Cornelio “Rex” Pepino.

PTFoMS chairman and Justice Secretary Mernardo Guevarra has designated Prosecutor Leonardo Mandajoyan to lead the Special Investigation Team for New Cases (SITN) that was convened to specifically probe the murder of Pepino.

“It is imperative that there is a pro-active involvement of the prosecutor during criminal investigation of cases involving media violence and other egregious human rights violations,” Guevarra said in his directive, which created the SITN.

With the creation of the SITN, PTFoMS will provide effective leadership in the conduct of a thorough and complete criminal investigation on the murder of Pepino with the assistance of the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Recently, the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) implemented a search warrant issued by Judge Leoncio R. Bancoro of Branch 41 of the Dumaguete City Regional Trial Court upon the endorsement of provincial chief Lt. Col. Ariel T. Huesca against SPO4 Reuel D. Pinero, a person of interest (POI) in the case and chief security of Negros Oriental Governor Roel R. Degamo. The search yielded 131 rounds of 5.56 mm live ammunition.

Degamo, in an interview, clarified that “the house of Pinero was raided because he is attached to him and if Pinero will be implicated, it will destroy his image and person as the governor of the province.”

He said there was an intent on the part of the CIDG to implicate the governor and destroy his reputation and career in politics.

Huesca denied the allegations, saying there was no malicious intent in the implementation of the warrant.

To avoid such conflicts and allay fears of whitewashing by Negros Oriental local officials, PTFoMS Executive Director Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco on Friday called the attention of PRO-7 regional director Brig. Gen. Albert Ignatius Ferro through a memorandum that the PTFoMS shall be taking over the investigation of the case.

To ensure the investigation proceeds unfettered and free from prejudices of localized intrusions, Egco directed the PNP to cease and desist its own investigation and to fully cooperate and coordinate with the SITN pursuant to the mandate and directive of Administrative Order No. 1.

“This is the very reason why President Rodrigo Duterte created the PTFoMS through AO1. There should be a government-wide program of action where the whole system of the bureaucracy is involved with the goal of protecting the life, liberty, and security of media workers. Those ultimately responsible at the highest levels will be made accountable for his death,” Egco explained.

Egco also cautioned law enforcement officers that any failure to cooperate with the PTFoMS or the SITN shall have dire consequences.

Earlier, Egco warned local officials in Negros Oriental not to obstruct the investigation of the case.

He issued the warning after probers positively identified a car used as a surveillance and getaway vehicle in the murder was traced to the provincial government.

Egco also expressed concern when NBI agents investigating the case were subjected to serious threats and harassment by some unscrupulous individuals in the province.

“These underhanded tactics, attempts to whitewash the case, threats on law enforcers and other evil schemes will only serve to strengthen our resolve to get to the bottom of this,” Egco said. “They will feel the full weight of the Office of the President bearing down on them.”

Pepino was a veteran commentator and known critic of local politicians. He hosted “Pokpokin mo Baby” that aired over DYMD Energy FM 93.7.

He was killed execution-style after being shot five times at point-blank range by motorcycle “riding-in-tandem” gunmen right in front of his wife in Dumaguete City on May 5, 2020.

The PTFoMS will continuously update the public on the case. (PR)