IFJ hails start of trial in Aklan broadcasters’ murders

ILOILO CITY, Philippines–The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has welcomed the start of the trial of the accused in the murder of Aklan broadcaster Rolando Ureta.

In an e-mailed statement dated May 16, the IFJ said the start of the trial of Ureta’s case at the Cebu City Regional Trial Court Branch 16 last May 9 was a significant step in finding justice for slain Filipino journalists.

“This is an important step forward for the Philippine police, courts and judicial system in demonstrating to all perpetrators of violence against journalists that they will be brought to account,” said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries, including the Philippines.

Ureta was gunned down by two motorcycle-riding men on January 3, 2001, along the national highway in Barangay Bagtu, Lezo town in Aklan while on his way to his parents’ house.

He was program manager of the radio station dyKR and hosted the Agong Nightwatch program at the time he was killed. He was also investigating illegal gambling and drugs before he was murdered.

“Voices like Ureta’s are incredibly important in the fight against corruption in the Philippines and, in his memory, we honor his commitment to press freedom,” said Park.

Ureta’s case had dragged for years without significant progress until the Department of Justice reversed an earlier resolution of the Aklan Provincial Prosecutors Office dismissing the complaint against suspects Amador Raz and Jessie Ticar.

Raz was arrested while Ticar surrendered in 2007. Ticar, however, died at the Aklan provincial hospital from complications of a throat ailment early May.

The two accused have repeatedly denied their involvement in Ureta’s murder.

In March, the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of the cases of Ureta and another slain Aklan broadcaster, Herson Hinolan, from Aklan to Cebu for security reasons upon the request of the victims’ families and media organizations.

In its statement, the IFJ congratulated its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and media groups under the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists for their successful petition to the Supreme Court for the relocation of the trial from Aklan to Cebu City.

Ureta’s widow Emely said she was happy the case was moving on despite the years of delay.

“After years of slowly losing hope, there is now a trial. We are hopeful that the case will proceed to the end and justice will be finally given to my husband,” she said in a telephone interview.

Emely testified in the hearing on May 9 about the details of the killing and the threats that her husband received before he was killed.

The next hearing has been scheduled for May 26, the same day that a hearing on Hinolan’s case will be held at the Cebu City RTC.

Former Mayor Alfredo Arcenio of Lezo town in Aklan is set to be arraigned for the murder of Hinolan.

Hinolan, station manager of Bombo Radyo Kalibo was shot on Nov. 13, 2004, near a carnival in the capital town of Kalibo. He died two days later from his wounds.

Witnesses have tagged Arcenio as Hinolan’s gunman but the former mayor has repeatedly denied masterminding the crime, saying he was in Lezo town, seven kilometers from Kalibo, when Hinolan was shot dead.

Arcenio, a former intelligence officer of the Army’s 47th Infantry Battalion, surrendered to the Aklan RTC on March 5, after hiding for a year and half.(PDI)

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