Two suspects in journalist’s killing six years ago arraigned

CMFR/Philippines— Two suspects in the killing of a broadcast journalist were arraigned on 10 January 2008, more than half a decade after the murder.

Rolando Ureta, then 30, was killed on his way home onboard his motorcycle in Lezo, Aklan after his evening news broadcast on 3 January 2001 when an assassin riding pillion on a motorcycle shot him three times. The program director of radio dyKR in Aklan, Ureta was reporting on illegal gambling, illegal drugs, and corruption at the time he was killed. He is survived by his wife Emely, and their now eight-year old son.

Jessie Ticar and co-accused Amador Raz both pleaded not guilty to charges of murder before Judge Marietta Homena-Valencia of the Kalibo Regional Trial Court in Aklan on 10 January 2007. Aklan is a province approximately 345 km south of Manila.

The arraignment of the Ticar and Raz had been stopped twice after defense lawyer Joan Ibutnande asked for the court to await the decision of the Department of Justice (DoJ) on their motion for reconsideration (MR). After a 16 January 2007 DoJ resolution ordered the reopening of the case, the defense filed an MR on 5 February 2007 asking for another dismissal.

The defense motion was denied by the DoJ on 4 January 2008.

During the arraignment, Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera complained that the suspects Raz and Ticar were not handcuffed, contrary to a Supreme Court memorandum mandating that “(w)hile in a court’s premises, detention prisoners shall always be handcuffed unless the presiding judge directs otherwise.”

When asked by Valencia why the prisoners were not handcuffed, Teddy Esto, an officer from the Aklan Provincial Jail, said that the prisoners are “inside the court anyway.”

The case has literally crawled through a series of legal hurdles for six years after finally having any significant movement. The case had been dismissed twice by prosecutor Apolinar Barrios before being reopened by the DoJ on 16 January 2007, or more than six years after Ureta’s killing. Barrios first dismissed the case on 6 December 2004, and then again on February 2005, or a month after Ureta’s widow Emely filed on 4 January 2005 a motion for reconsideration which contained the affidavits of additional witnesses.

Seventy journalists/ media practitioners have been killed in the line of duty since 1986. Thirty-three out of the 70 were killed during the present administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which started in 2001. There are only two cases among the 33 which have resulted in convictions for the gunmen. No mastermind has ever been prosecuted.

A weak justice system in which even normal court processes are ignored has been blamed for the continuing killing of journalists.  In one case—that of Herson Hinolan, another broadcast journalist who was killed on 15 November 2004 in Aklan,—the police have yet to arrest the suspect, who is the alleged gunman and mastermind, despite an arrest warrant issued in 2006.

 

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