17 July 2003
Source: Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Quezon City
A reporter-columnist for a tabloid in Tarlac province, central Philippines, has become the third journalist to be killed in the country this year.
Bonifacio Gregorio, who worked for the local weekly “Dyaryo Banat” (“Attack” newspaper), was shot to death on 8 July 2003 by an unidentified assailant in front of his house in La Paz, Tarlac. The 55-year-old journalist was reportedly talking on his mobile phone when the assailant gunned him down at around 7:30 p.m. (local time).
According to the Manila newspapers “Philippine Star” and “Today”, the reporter-columnist sustained three gunshot wounds in the head and was rushed to the La Paz District Hospital. The case’s chief investigator, Senior Police Officer Pablo Pineda, was quoted by the online news service INQ7.net as saying that Gregorio “was shot at close range.” The journalist was later transferred to Ramos General Hospital, where he was declared dead on arrival.
Gregorio, a former village chief of Barangay Caramutan for nine years, joined the tabloid three years ago and was a member of the Tarlac Media Association. The Manila newspapers quoted their sources as saying that the gunman, a professional killer according to initial police investigations, fled on foot after gunning down Gregorio. Police are still investigating whether the assassin was accompanied by other individuals.
The victim was known for his criticism of La Paz Mayor Dionisio Manuel. He reportedly wrote several articles assailing Manuel for his allegedly illegal activities, among them the conversion of a former ricefield in La Paz into a memorial park.
The memorial park, which “Today” said was owned by Manuel’s family, was inaugurated on the same day Gregorio was killed.
Manuel was quoted by “Today” and the “Star” as denying any involvement in the killing. “I am willing to be investigated,” the mayor said. “Everybody knows that I never harbored ill-feelings against anyone, especially mediamen, including those who are critical of me.”
The victim’s wife, Gertrudes, said she had pleaded with Gregorio to stop writing critical articles. “I was asking him to stop writing because he had been earning the ire of many people because of his critical columns,” Gertrudes was quoted as saying by INQ7.net.
According to the CMFR database, Gregorio was the 39th Filipino journalist to be killed in the line of duty since 1986, and the 56th since 1961.
Since 1961, only two cases have been verified to have been solved and resulted in the imprisonment of the killers. However, since democracy was restored in 1986, not one case has been solved.
Three Filipino journalists have been killed so far this year. On 28 April, John Villanueva, Jr., 53, an announcer at DZGB radio station in Albay, was shot dead by still unidentified gunmen in Camalig, Albay (see IFEX alert of 30 April 2003). A similar tandem gunned down radio broadcaster Apolinario Pobeda on 17 May in Lucena City, Quezon (see alerts of 22 and 20 May 2003).
An average of three journalists per year has been killed since 1986 in the Philippines despite the decrease in the number of slain journalists worldwide.