Court orders arrest of gunmen in journalist’s slay

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – A General Santos City court ordered the arrest of a former police inspector and several others for the August 2008 killing of a radio broadcaster last 3 February 2009. General Santos City is approximately 1,049 kms southeast of Manila.

General Santos City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 36 judge Isaac Alvero Moran issued a warrant of arrest against former Police Inspector Redempto “Boy” Acharon, an alias “Gerry”, and several John Does, all suspects in the 2008 murder of radio broadcaster Dennis Cuesta. The arrest order came a few hours after state prosecutors filed murder charges against Acharon and the other accused before the local court.

Cuesta, program director and commentator for Radio Mindanao Network in General Santos City, died on 9 August 2008—five days after unidentified assailants shot him along a national highway near a shopping mall in General Santos City. Cuesta sustained wounds in the head and near the spinal column after being shot five times with a .45 caliber pistol.

According to a Department of Justice Task Force 211 (TF 211) statement, eyewitnesses “positively identified” Acharon as one of the gunmen. Acharon was at the time assigned as security for his cousin, General Santos City mayor Pedro Acharon Jr.

TF 211 was created in 2007 under Administrative Order No. 211 (Creating A Task Force Against Political Violence) “for the prevention, investigation, prosecution and punishment of political violence, the care and protection of people and communities victimized and threatened with violence, and the promotion of a culture opposed to violence and for the advancement of reconciliation and peace.”

The court said there was a “well-founded belief that sufficient probable cause exists against the above-named accused for the felony charged herein.” But it also added that “…in order not to frustrate the ends of justice, said accused having remained at large up to now, let the corresponding warrant for the arrest of said accused be issued forthwith.” It stated that once the suspects are arrested, the court would issue a Commitment Order.

The court addressed the warrant of arrest to the office of Philippine National Police (PNP) Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management chief Jefferson Soriano at PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City. Earlier reports said former PNP chief Director-General Avelino Razon had ordered that Acharon be reassigned to Camp Crame from the General Santos City police.

However in a phone interview with Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), TF 211 state prosecutor Hazel Valdez said that Acharon has been dropped from police rolls. She also said Acharon was no longer in General Santos City.

Department of Justice undersecretary and TF 211 chairman Ricardo Blancaflor said in a statement on 3 February that “(w)hile the assailants have been charged in court, their arrest is of primordial importance as they are considered as threats to public safety and security. The final conviction of these perpetrators and masterminds shall hopefully become an effective deterrent to the spate of media killings.”

Prior to the attack, Cuesta had been receiving death threats after reporting over his radio program “Sumbong at Aksyon (Grievance Desk)” the alleged contamination of a village’s water supply. This report led to an investigation by the City Health Council into who was responsible for the contamination.

Cuesta was the fourth of six journalists/ media practitioners killed in the line of duty in 2008 and the sixth killed in General Santos City since 1986. Seventy-seven journalists/ media practitioners have been killed in the line of duty in the Philippines since 1986.

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