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More Than a Dozen Journalists Killed in Philippines in a Year

August 5, 1985

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ More than a dozen Filipino journalists have been killed in the past year, all of them provincial newspapermen or radio commentators. One other, a police reporter, has disappeared.

Neither military authorities nor representatives of journalism organizations have been able to find any pattern in the killings, for the victims have spoken out on a variety of issues or personalities, ranging from left to right in the political spectrum.

In the past year more than twice as many journalists have been killed in the Philippines than in the previous decade. A National Press Club tally shows six journalists killed between 1975 and mid-1984.

A military report lists 13 killings of newsmen and the disappearance of the police reporter since then. The Tri-Media Association in Manila lists two other killings of journalists.

Another journalist, news commentator Vic Abangan, says he believes two attempts have been made on his life but doesn’t know who might be trying kill him.

Nevertheless, he still goes on the air every day over radio station DYCU in Cebu City.

In his noon-hour broadcast, Abangan usually assails President Ferdinand E. Marcos, Cebu opposition leader John Osmena, the Communist New People’s Army, the Philippine military and local gambling syndicates.

″I entrust everything to God,″ said Abangan. ″In this country, anyone can be killed for a price.″

Abangan is a ″blocktimer,″ radio announcers who pay for their own time on the air and sell advertising time. Some of those killed were blocktimers.

On April 29, three armed men entered the announcer’s booth of station DXWG on the island of Mindanaod and listeners heard the dying moans of commentator Charles Aberilla.

One newspaperman, Alexander Orcullo of Davao, was shot down in front of his wife and 3-year-old son.

″Against this climate of violence, it is remarkable that Philippine journalists continue to pursue stories about official corruption and human rights abuses, since these appear to be the issues, at least in several cases, on which the murdered newsmen focused,″ wrote Barbara Koeppel of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, in a letter to President Marcos.

Of the cases reported by the military, seven are listed as being possibly related to the fact the victims were journalists. Some of the others are listed as the result of love triangles or the involvement of the journalists in other businesses.

The military claims one of the journalists, Noe Alejandrino of Bulacan Province, was actually a Communist rebel leader who engaged soldiers in a firefight.

The military acknowledges at least three of the newsmen were killed by soldiers or former military men. News reports list the military as suspect in several other cases.

Communist New People’s Army death squads called ″Sparrow Units″ are also suspected in some of the killings.

″We are no longer safe, either from the government side or the other side,″ said Al Alinsug, editor of the English-language Visayan Herald, an independent daily published in the central Philippines.

Alinsug blames the killings on a lack of moral leadership by Marcos and economic difficulties, noting that a killer can be hired for as little as 1,000 pesos ($55).

Soldiers or police officers have been arrested in connection with four of the deaths. There have been, however, no convictions and the military reports no progress in investigations of most other cases.

Andre Kahn, chairman of the National Broadcasters Association, which is a self-regulating body representing the nation’s 303 radio and 34 television stations, said the killngs have had little impact on the Philippines’ free- wheeling style of broadcast journalism.

″It has not caused the media to be more timid. The effect is not for media to clam up but to continue to be the guardian of freedom,″ he said.

Kahn said he was referring to anti-government programs and those that attack the Communist rebels.

He said journalism may have become a more dangerous profession in recent years because commentary has become bolder since Marcos ended eight years of martial law in 1981.

Although major broadcast and print media are owned by associates or family members of Marcos and his wife, Imelda, many smaller media organizations in outlying areas are owned by opposition figures.

Abangan said the station on which he broadcasts was recently taken over by a business associate of Marcos, Eduardo Cojuango, but that this has not affected his freedom to criticize whomever he wants.

Abangan said, however, he still feels threatened because of incidents he beleives were aimed at him.

On May 10, three men with guns hidden under newspapers entered the DYCU studios while Abangan was on the air, but he was broadcasting from a remote hookup in his office several blocks away.

He said a similar incident occurred at a hospital five hours after he had checked out after treatment for a minor illness.

″It’s like I’m living in a prison cell,″ said Abangan. He added that he now limits his travel around Cebu, carries a gun and has armed four of his relatives to serve as bodyguards.

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