PTFoMS resolute on Rex Pepino case amid challenges

<p>Presidential Task Force on Media Security Executive Director Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco<em> (File photo)</em></p>

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

MANILA – As the death anniversary of radio broadcaster Cornelio “Rex” Pepino draws near, the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) is highly confident that the official result of the inter-agency probe into his death will be released soon.

Pepino, a veteran commentator and known critic of local politicians, was shot dead by motorcycle “riding-in-tandem” gunmen in Dumaguete City on May 5, 2020 right after hosting “Pokpokin mo Baby” that aired over DYMD Energy FM 93.7.

“In spite of the tremendous obstacles faced by investigators and the logistical challenges brought about by the Covid19 pandemic, the Task Force is nearing the final stages of the investigation into Pepino’s death. We remain steadfast in our commitment to bring to justice the perpetrators of this despicable crime,” Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco, PTFoMS Executive Director, said in a news release on Tuesday.

Earlier, the Philippine National Police (PNP) identified a certain Rodel Barillo as the primary suspect in the case after a witness came forward that he overheard the suspect talking about the incident. A court-issued search warrant resulted in the recovery of a 9mm gun from Barillo’s residence which the PNP said matched with the bullet slugs found in the crime scene.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), on the other hand, conducted an exhumation of the body of Pepino wherein a bullet fragment was recovered from the right shoulder of the victim. A detailed forensic examination of the fragment also revealed that it came from a 9mm-caliber bullet. Barillo, however, was shot dead a week after the killing of Pepino.

With the alleged gunman dead and the weapon used in the crime seized, the case should have been declared closed. However, in spite of these findings, Egco ordered law enforcement agencies to conduct a much deeper investigation into the mysteries surrounding the death of the broadcaster.

"It's theatrical. Just like in the movies where one of the suspects is killed to tie some loose ends. Hindi naman tayo pinanganak kahapon (we were not born yesterday)," he said.

Egco said the biggest challenge faced by investigators was the lack of direct eyewitnesses of the grim murder. Even Coleen, who was with the victim at the time of the incident, could not identify with certainty any of her husband’s killers.

Upon the recommendation of Egco, PTFoMS Chairman and Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra activated the Special Investigation Team on New Cases (SITN) pursuant to Administrative Order No. 1 (AO1) composed of veteran investigators from the DOJ, NBI, and the PNP.

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

DOJ Prosecutor Eusebio Catalan was appointed to lead the SITN.

Other persons of interest (POIs) identified by investigators include police officers Reuel Pinero and Melvin Bulandres of the Negros Oriental Provincial Police Office (NOPPO).

Egco explained that the Task Force provided effective and impartial leadership in the conduct of a thorough investigation on the murder of Pepino with the creation of the SITN.

“This is the very purpose of PTFoMS: the establishment of an inter-agency task force where all relevant law enforcement agencies of the government work together in solving media violence,” Egco said. (PR)