MANILA – The Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) has directed the Philippine National Police (PNP) to intensify its manhunt for fugitive Dante Encarnacion Tabusares, the primary suspect in the murder of broadcaster Eduardo Sanchez Dizon in Kidapawan City.

In a memorandum issued to Brig. Gen. Michael John F. Dubria, director of Police Regional Office in Soccsksargen (PRO-12), PTFoMS Executive Director Joel Sy Egco, ordered the creation of Special Tracker Teams to hasten the capture of Tabusares along with co-accused Junell Poten pursuant to the operational guidelines of the Malacañang-based Task Force.

The directive was made after the PRO-12 met with PTFoMS officials in a virtual meeting to discuss the latest updates on the media killing cases in the region.

It should be recalled that Tabusares, a.k.a. Bong Encarnacion, has reportedly joined the terrorist group Communist Party of the Philippines–New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) in Arakan, North Cotabato in a desperate attempt to evade arrest.

“It is no surprise that Tabusares had sought sanctuary with the communist terrorist group. The NPA today is nothing more than a band of criminals and murderers. Tabusares will fit perfectly with the NPA,” Egco said in a news release on Sunday.

Egco said the fugitive from justice even mocked law enforcement agencies by making public statements in social media, an indication that he could still be enjoying the protection of some unscrupulous people.

Tabusares allegedly masterminded the killing of Dizon who was critical of the KAPA Community Ministry International’s investment scheme prior to his death. Tabusares was the local coordinator of KAPA at the time.

“He may cower behind his protectors but he will not evade justice for long. It is my solemn pledge to the family and colleagues of Ed Dizon that Tabusares will be brought to justice to answer for this heinous crime,” Egco added.

Col. Henry Villar, South Cotabato provincial director, and Lt. Col. Ramel Homilla, Kidapawan City chief of police, vowed to double their efforts to capture the suspects with the cooperation and assistance of other member agencies of the Task Force during their meeting with Egco.

Earlier, Judge Henelinda Molina-Diaz of Kidapawan Regional Trial Court Branch 61 ordered the arrest of Tabusares for the murder of Dizon, together with Poten and Sotelo Jacolbe Jr., the latter has already voluntarily surrendered to authorities.

In a related development, the Task Force also asked the Supreme Court on the status of the motion to change venue as requested by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) allegedly on behalf of Dizon’s kin. This request has in effect unduly delayed the court proceedings against the suspects.

"We expected trial to begin last July 2020 but we were surprised that these groups meddled with case. They made the widow of Mr. Dizon believe that the Task Force was aware of such request. This undue and uncalled request has adversely affected the case and caused delays. They are not parties to the case. Not even involved in any investigation," Egco said.

Dizon, a former town councilor of Makilala, North Cotabato, was a blocktime host of the local Brigada News when he was murdered on July 10, 2019. He was driving his car on his way home to Makilala at past 10 p.m. when motorcycle “riding-in-tandem” gunmen shot and killed him on the spot.

With a dedicated mandate to resolve media killings in the country, Egco also announced the 50th case of media killing that resulted in a guilty verdict with the conviction of accused Leonardo Banaag Jr. for the murder of radio broadcaster Jovelito Agustin.

This brings to 67 the total number of media killers who were convicted by the courts, he said.

Egco pointed out that from one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, the Philippines’ status has greatly improved ever since former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016.

In 2018, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres or RSF) for the first time has delisted the Philippines on its list of top most dangerous countries for journalists in the world.

More recently, Egco said the country was declared as the “biggest mover” by the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) in its annual Global Impunity Index (GII) released last Oct. 28, 2020. The Philippines is also not included in CPJ’s list of “World’s Worst Places to Be a Journalist” or “10 Most Censored Countries”.

Egco pointed out that the campaign to end impunity against journalists will be another of Duterte’s legacies to the Filipino people. (PR)