Community publisher killed

11 May 2005

The publisher of a community-based weekly in a province north of Manila became the fourth Filipino journalist assassinated this year, the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) reports.

On 10 May, Philip Agustin, publisher-editor Starline Times Recorder was gunned down in Dingalan town, Aurora province. CMFR, a founding member of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), is investigating the circumstances and possible motives behind the killing, focusing on allegations that the assassination was related to the victim’s journalism.

Agustin was killed inside his daughter’s house in Paltic village. He suffered a single gunshot wound in the head, the news website http://www.inq7.net reported. The report added that a .45-caliber gun was used in the killing. Agustin died at the municipal hospital less than an hour after his shooting.

In an interview with CMFR, town councilor Valentino Lapuz said the murder took place after Agustin reprinted a special edition of his paper which carried a story about alleged missing funds of the municipal government, and which put the local mayor, Jaime Ylarde, in a bad light. The special edition was expected be distributed on 11 May.

In November and December last year, Aurora suffered massive landslides caused by typhoons, displacing more than a thousand families and causing massive damages to property.

Lapuz told CMFR that he and Agustin, who lost the mayoralty race in 1998, were planning to file graft charges against Ylarde.

Ylarde, on the other hand, denied any involvement in the killing. He told CMFR in Filipino: “Reports linking me to Agustin’s killing make me laugh. I don’t have anything to do with it. I was even surprised when someone from a TV station called and asked me on the killing.”

Ylarde, however, branded Agustin’s attacks against him as “politically-motivated.”

“I was supposed to file a libel case against him because of the articles they had been writing about me. Their stories were too brutal,” he told CMFR. He described Agustin’s stories as “malicious” and “libelous” and added that he was unaware that Agustin’s paper existed until recently. Ylarde said that he ordered the local police to do a thorough investigation of the killing.

Agustin’s killing happened almost a week after the 4 May slay of Klein Cantoneros, a radio broadcaster in Dipolog City, southern Philippines.

The 54-year-old Agustin was the fourth journalist killed in the Philippines since the start of 2005.  The New York-based organization Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recently identified the Philippines as the “most murderous” country for journalists, edging out countries like war-torn Iraq and Colombia, where reporting on drugs, militias, and local corruption put reporters at great risk. Another international organization for press freedom, the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders/RSF) called on the United Nations to send a team to the Philippines to investigate the killings.