Palawan broadcaster shot dead, gunman caught
Ortega, 47, was the main news anchor and commentator of Radyo Mo Nationwide's (RMN)'s Palawan station dwAR at the time of the killing.
In a statement issued on Monday, the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) said, "Ortega is the 142nd journalist killed since 1986 when democracy was restored in the Philippine after Ferdinand Marcos was toppled."
"If the killing is proven to be work-related, he would be the second to be murdered under President Noynoy Aquino. The first was radio reporter Miguel Belen of Iriga, Camarines Sur," the NUJP said.
James Viernes, radio anchor of RGMA, said the incident occurred at an "ukay-ukay" or used clothing store along the national highway in barangay San Pedro at around 9:30 a.m. Monday, shortly after the radio program of Ortega.
The sad thing about news stories on media killings is that often, they rarely portray the real human behind the victim of the latest example of impunity to hit the country.
He is listed as the 142nd victim of violence against media workers in the Philippines since 1986, when the country regained its democratic footing from the ravages of a dictatorship. But beyond the statistics, what most people do not know is that the hard-hitting broadcaster Gerardo Ortega was also a passionate environmental advocate, supremely devout Roman Catholic, tireless crusader for good governance, one-time maverick politician, and a devoted family man to his wife and five children.
Shuttling between environment and media circles, my path inevitably crossed that of Gerry’s when I entered Palawan’s vibrant bohemian scene in the early 1990s. Most people called him Doc Gerry, the wildlife veterinarian who fearlessly hunted rogue reptiles as the director of the crocodile farm in Puerto Princesa. Under his leadership, the crocodile farm became the top tourist attraction in the city.
However, he was also involved in many civic and religious causes, from information campaigns about Muslim autonomy to Gawad Kalinga housing projects. For his activism and courage, our small community newspaper Bandillo ng Palawan named him our very first Palaweño of the Year in 1998, an award he treasured so much that he had the issue cover framed, often showing it to visitors in his house. (Read more)
Viernes reported that the suspect, identified as Marvin Alcaraz of Taguig City in Metro Manila, claimed that he only intended to rob Ortega. A caliber-45 gun was recovered from the suspect, Viernes said.
Mayor: Ortega received death threats via text
Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn said Ortega received death threats through text messages before he was killed.
In a radio interview, Hagedorn also said he ordered city police to secure both Ortega's family and suspected gunman Marvin Alcaraz.
"Pina-secure ko ang pamilya, sabi ko sa pulis ang suspect alagaan ... Siguraduhing di ito masaktan dahil napakahalaga ang statement ng triggerman na yan," Hagedorn said in an interview on dzBB radio.
(I ordered the city police to secure Ortega's family and to secure Alcaraz. Secure the triggerman because his testimony will be very vital.)
He also said he believes the killing of Ortega was work-related because Ortega was a hard-hitting commentator, especially against the mining activities in the province.
The mayor said many of the text messages came while Ortega was attacking mining activities.
"'Ang anak mong babae ingatan mo, uunahin namin' ... Masyadong marumi ang text. Nagpa-blotter yata siya noong time na yan," Hagedorn recalled.
(Take care of your daughter, we may get her first. The text was so nasty. I think Ortega reported the threat to police at the time.)
Hagedorn, who was in Manila Monday, said he plans to go back to Puerto Princesa City on Tuesday to supervise the investigation personally.
"Laban siya sobra sa pagmimina sa Palawan. Definitely may kinalaman ito sa trabaho niya (Ortega was very much against mining. Definitely his death was work-related)," he added.
Aside from his media work, Ortega is a well-known wildlife veterinarian and environmentalist popularly known as "Doc Gerry."
He worked with the Crocodile Farming Institute, since renamed the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, from 1988 to 2000, mostly as its director.
He also served as board member in the Palawan provincial board from 2001 to 2004. He ran but lost in the 2004 gubernatorial race in the province. In the 2010 elections, he supported the failed gubernatorial bid of businessman Jose Alvarez.
In a statement issued on Monday, 1st District Rep. Antonio Ch. Alvarez, the brother of defeated gubernatorial candidate Jose Alvarez, said "Doc Gerry was more than a radio commentator, he was also a wildlife conservationist , a public servant , an anti-graft crusader , roles which he played with guts , grit and gravitas."
"He loved Palawan so much that he was the last frontier’s first defender , ready to rise up when it is threatened by those who want to rob it of its natural riches or its share from national wealth," Antonio said.
"His passions ranged from running a crocodile conservation station to running for public office – both successfully , although he found wrestling with crocs easier than grappling with the province’s problems," he added.
The congressman noted that Ortega not only protected endangered species but also prosecuted those who endanger the treasury.
"He was a veterinarian who tried to cure social ills and took in as patients people who have been dealt life’s worst miseries. I didn’t have to the heart to tell him that he was better in ministering to his human clients than to his animal flock," Antonio said.
"In his new calling, never was he for a moment unfaithful to the canons of journalism . He was fearless but fair. He can be obstinate at times but always objective. He gave space to views he found reprehensible because he was confident that in the open marketplace of ideas the good will always triumphed over the bad in the end," he said.
"The courage that Doc Gerry showed is not an endangered kind in Palawan. There is more where it came from. What is probably in short supply is the determination of the government to bring his killers to justice and to end the impunity by which journalists are being silenced," he added.
Ortega was also active in church circles and was one of the local leaders of the Catholic group Couples for Christ in Palawan.
He has been involved in many advocacy campaigns including the anti-mining protests and the quest for an equitable share for Palawan from the Malampaya natural gas project.
Ortega was the project officer for Puerto Princesa of ABS-CBN Foundation's community programs that included cave tours in Ugong Rock, firefly watching at Irawan river, as well as dolphin-watching and river tours in Palawan's capital city.
The slain broadcaster is survived by his wife Patria, also a veterinarian, four daughters and a son.
Lawyers decry Ortega's murder
Meanwhile, the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) also condemned the killing of Ortega, whom the group described "as a fierce environmental advocate and critic of mining projects in a province that has become a no man’s land to free expression."
“The death of yet another radio commentator in the hands of an assassin sadly highlights the continuing failure of government to stem the tide of impunity in the country, one which has targeted journalists in unprecedented numbers," said lawyer Harry Roque, CenterLaw chairperson.
“We call on the Philippine National Police (PNP) to carry out a speedy and honest-to-goodness investigation of the murder," he said in a statement issued from Bangkok.
“We don’t want another whitewash here, considering the work he did as a broadcaster who fought very influential people in the province in his radio commentaries over mining issues," Roque said.
According to Roque, Ortega, a member of the Puerto Princesa-based citizen’s group Kilusang Love Malampaya (KLM), Ortega has supported a petition filed before the Supreme Court by CenterLaw on behalf of residents of the province.
The petition sought to declare as unconstitutional an anomalous sharing agreement between the provincial government and the national government over the proceeds of the $US 10 billion Malampaya natural gas project off the coast of the province. — RSJ/VVP/YA, GMANews.TV