Anti-mining mediaman Dr. Gerry Ortega killed in Palawan


January 25, 2011

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PHILIPPINES: Murder of Gerry Ortega, an anti-mining activist, cannot
be passed off as a robbery

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) sends it sincere condolences
to the family of Gerry Ortega, a broadcast journalist and mining
activist. He was shot dead at a market place while buying clothes in
Puerto Princesa City yesterday, January 24. The policemen present in
the area reportedly arrested the gunman, Malvin Alcaraz, after the
shooting. Ortega's murder is just one more case that demonstrates the
extent of lawlessness and insecurity in the country.

Unlike most of the murders of journalists, human rights and political
activists, where the perpetrators are not known, Ortega's murder is
one of the few instances in which the perpetrator has been arrested,
if indeed, it can be proven that the person whom the police arrested
was the gunman. In most cases, even if the identity of the gunmen is
known, they could not be prosecuted because of lack of witnesses.
Witnesses are too frightened to testify in most investigations
conducted by the authorities.

There were two versions as to the motive of Ortega's murder at the
early stage of the investigation. First, the gunman had killed him as
a result of robbery gone wrong. However, there was no evidence to show
the use of force and resistance on Ortega's part that would have
resulted in the shooting. Secondly, that the murder was a result of
Ortega's advocacies for protection of the environment, particularly
the impact of mining; and that the arrested gunman had been hired to
silence him.

The AHRC doubted the first version. It is incomprehensible and devoid
of logic to be the gunman's motive to kill Ortega. To trivialize the
murders of journalists, human rights and political activists, has been
a common police practice at the early stage of investigations in the
Philippines. The murder of Bishop Alberto Ramento inside his convent
in Tarlac City on October 3, 2006 is one of many highly politically
motivated murders that investigators have also trivialized as a result
of robbery, not a targeted attack on activists.

There is a political context and benefit of publicity on the part of
the government as to why this type of murder would rather be reduced
to plain robbery. When a murder is trivialized as purely motivated by
robbery, the state responsibility and accountability is also reduced.
It creates a false sense that the ongoing extrajudicial killings are
not systematic, widespread and targeted, to gloss over the country's
human rights record.

In Ortega's case, the Philippine National Police (PNP) already had a
starting point in their investigation that they must continue with
effectively and thoroughly. What is needed from them is to focus on
Ortega's work as the motive and to identify the people behind his
murder. The AHRC is aware of Ortega's environmental advocacy,
particularly the negative implications of mining on the indigenous
community in the Palawan peninsula. He spoke of this during his
dialogue with AHRC staff in Hong Kong with other colleagues on
November 2009.

It is reported that Ortega had informed the police about receiving
death threats on his mobile phone before he was murdered. Therefore,
the police station who recorded his testimony should explain what
action they have taken to protect him and the result of their
investigation in identifying the persons who made the threats. It
needs to be ascertained as to how the policemen took action on his
report. If there was neglect on the part of the police, this must be
investigated and they must be held accountable.

Ortega's murder reaffirms the already known fact that the
perpetrators have no qualms about murdering their targets in broad
daylight, at anytime, anywhere. The presence of hundreds of potential
witnesses no longer hinders them. Ortega was shot in open public view,
in a crowded market place and in broad daylight. The perpetrators no
longer fear being arrested and prosecuted for murder. In most cases
they will get away with it.

The lack of prosecution in over a thousand extrajudicial killings of
journalists, human rights and political activists, demonstrates how
deeply flawed the system of investigation and prosecution is in the
country. To our knowledge, only three cases involving the murder of
journalists are known to have resulted in convictions; the rest of the
cases did not result in prosecution.

Ortega's murder demonstrates the ugly reality of the loss of value of
human lives in the Philippine society. The value of human lives has
become only an idea rather than fact because the system in which lives
should have been protected is either deeply flawed or non-existent in
its real sense. It is the people who protect themselves in their own
system; they do not rely on the government. The murder and the ongoing
impunity is a byproduct of the rotten state of the investigation and
protection mechanism.

For more about Gerry Ortega, please read:

Gerry Ortega: From crocodile hunter to hunted crusader

Palawan broadcaster shot dead, gunman caught

Slain Palawan journalist received death threats

Palawan Environmentalist and Broadcaster Shot Dead

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional
non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia,
documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional
reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The
Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
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