A court in Palawan acquitted a former police officer accused of killing a broadcaster in 2006. The decision was promulgated 11 April 2011.
In a decision dated 8 April 2011, Palawan Regional Trial Court Branch 95 Judge Bienvenido Blancaflor acquitted and ordered the release of former policeman Aaron Golifardo for the 2006 murder of dyPR radioman Fernando “Dong” Batul. The pre-trial conference on the murder of Batul started on 2 August 2006. (Another gunman remained unidentified as of press time.)
Batul was on his way to work when two men shot him on 22 May 2006 at around 6:30 in the morning. According to his colleagues, Batul was reporting over his radio program alleged anomalies at the Puerto Princesa City Public Employment and Services Office (PESO) at the time of the killing. The PESO facilitated employment of workers in Taiwan. Puerto Princesa is the capital of Palawan, a resort province 592 kilometers from Manila.
Blancaflor said in his decision that the testimonies of some prosecution witnesses were “incredible” and “not believable”. The judge also said he doubted the intentions of the prosecution witnesses “(E)ach witness received monetary reward after they executed their respective affidavits pointing to accused Aaron Golifardo as one of the gunmen,” said Blancaflor. (Puerto Prinsesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn and Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes offered reward money to those who could identify the gunman.)
“Could this be the real reason why they out of nowhere suddenly surfaced when days had passed and every Maria and Juan, including those in the law enforcement agencies, was clueless as to the identity of the gunmen?” the judge asked in his decision.
Compared to the prosecution, the court said Golifardo has “substantiated (his innocence) by (presenting) clear and convincing evidence” as to the truth of his statements in court, including why he flew to Manila a few hours after the shooting of Batul last 22 May 2006.
According to the “Philippine Daily Inquirer”, the Batul family found the court’s decision shocking as they believed they had “a strong case against Golifardo.”
As for the reward money given the witnesses by Hagedorn and Reyes, Letty Batul Cabusao, Dong’s older sister, said the money was never meant as payment for false testimony. “Why did he discredit the statements of our witnesses? He is the third judge who handled the murder case. He had no chance to see how one of our witnesses cried and trembled while testifying,” she said in an interview with the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR). (Prior to Blancaflor, two other judges had presided over the hearings. One of the judges inhibited himself from the case, while the other was transferred to Manila.)
Cabusao said that the Batul family will continue their campaign for justice. “Even if the decision was unfair, the people still have their fingers pointed at them.”
She thanked the media for their continuous support and efforts to stop the killing of journalists in the Philippines.
Batul was the 67th journalist killed in the Philippines at the time of his death. A total of 120 journalists have been killed in the line of duty since 1986.
Only 10 out of the 120 work-related cases of slain journalists and media workers in the Philippines since 1986 have resulted in convictions. In August last year, another police officer along with his supposed accomplice who allegedly killed radio broadcaster Roger Mariano in Ilocos Norte was acquitted by a Manila court.
CMFR (http://www.cmfr-phil.org) is a SEAPA founding member based in Manila, the Philippines, working to promote ethical journalism and to protect press freedom.