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Palace vows thorough probe on reporter’s slay

Artemio Dumlao, Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Palace vows thorough probe on reporterâs slay
A veteran reporter based in Pampanga, the 58-year-old Malabanan was shot dead Wednesday night inside his store at his residence in Calbayog City, Samar, triggering condemnation from fellow journalists and the top levels of government.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang yesterday promised a no-nonsense probe into the murder of journalist Jesus Malabanan of the Manila Standard.

A veteran reporter based in Pampanga, the 58-year-old Malabanan was shot dead Wednesday night inside his store at his residence in Calbayog City, Samar, triggering condemnation from fellow journalists and the top levels of government.

Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) said they will not sleep until the perpetrators are
apprehended.

“Jess is a personal friend of mine. This cowardly killing is truly unforgivable. We will get to the bottom of this and will stop at nothing in bringing to justice the perpetrators of this despicable crime,” said Egco.

He added that he will go to Samar to personally oversee the probe into Malabanan’s death and to attend the wake and condole with the victim’s family and friends.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the tragic murder of Jesus ‘Jess’ Malabanan,” Cabinet Secretary and acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said.

“We condole with the family, loved ones, and colleagues of Mr. Malabanan and assure them that the government will exert all efforts to ensure that those responsible are caught, charged, and convicted for this crime,” he added

Shot in the head

Lt. Nieto Rarugal of the Calbayog City Police Station said Malabanan was shot in the head while watching television inside his store in Barangay San Joaquin, Tinambacan District around 6:30 p.m. of Dec. 8.
Staff Sergeant Emelito, of the same police station, said two gunmen positioned themselves outside the store and fired shots through the window, hitting the journalist in the head.

His wife, Mila, heard the gunshot, but was unable to see the gunman whom police investigators said fled the scene on a motorcycle driven by his cohort.

Rarugal said they launched a “hot pursuit operation” as the gunmen headed north in the direction of San Isidro, Northern Samar, where local police were alerted to “conduct checkpoints for possible identity and arrest of the fleeing suspects.”

Malabanan was taken to the St. Camillus Hospital in the city, but was declared dead on arrival by the attending physician.

Initial verification by PTFoMS from the victim’s close friends and colleagues indicated that he had no known enemies and was not a hard-hitting journalist.

But in 2017, Malabanan sought the help of the PTFoMS and was given police security.

In his Facebook post, Filipino Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Manny Mogato said: “Jess helped Reuters a lot in the drug war stories that won a Pulitzer in 2018.”

Malabanan was a defense reporter in the ’80s and ’90s, then based in Angeles City, Pampanga. He served as a stringer for the Manila Times and Reuters as well as correspondent for Bandera before writing for the Standard.

It was learned that Malabanan and his wife recently recovered from COVID-19 and had made regular trips back to Samar, his hometown, to attend to his farm business.

Nograles assured the family and friends of Malabanan that his killers would face the consequences of their action.
SITG formed

Yesterday, Gen. Dionardo Carlos, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, ordered Eastern Visayas police director, Brig. Gen. Rommel Bernardo Cabagnot, to create a special investigation task group (SITG) for the speedy solution of the case.

“The PNP is doing its best to immediately identify and arrest the person responsible for Malabanan’s death,” said Carlos. “We understand the call of the family and different groups to expedite the investigation of the case. These requests will not fall on deaf ears.”

He noted that the SITG will be composed of investigating teams from the Regional Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, Forensic Group, Regional Intelligence Unit and the Calbayog police.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is also ready to conduct a parallel probe if Malabanan’s killing was related to his work.

“I will direct the PTFoMS to look into this violent incident as soon as possible. If it is work-related, we’ll do a parallel investigation,” said Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who co-chairs the PTFoMS.

Condemnation

In Calbayog City, Mayor Diego Rivera also condemned the crime “to the highest level” and asked police to conduct a thorough investigation into the senseless killing so that justice will be served.

In a separate statement, the Eastern Visayas Media Without Borders (EVMWB), a tri-media organization in Region 8, said the killing was “the first against a journalist based in Calbayog” but that “other series of murders in the city that remained unsolved to this day” were worth condemning.

“This is a blatant assault on the rights of media practitioners and the noble principles of press freedom. We are hoping that authorities shall utilize every resource available to get to the truth behind the brutal killing,” the group said.

It added that police records revealed that at least 80 killings have been recorded in Calbayog City since 2013 and that most of them were left unsolved, even those linked to political violence.

The Pampanga Press Club (PPC), of which Malabanan was member, condemned his murder “in the strongest terms” and called on the PNP and other investigation and law enforcement agencies to help bring his killers to justice.

“We call on the authorities for a prompt investigation that would lead to the arrest of the perpetrators of this cowardly act in the interest of justice,” the PPC said.

The EVMWB said it wants an audience with Egco, executive director of the PTFoMS, which was created by President Duterte in 2016 to safeguard press freedom by protecting the life, liberty and security of media workers.

The group expressed optimism that Egco would do his best to obtain justice for Malabanan.

They recalled Egco’s visit in Tacloban City for the 2nd Media Awards last Dec. 4, during which he declared that the government is committed to protect the media and journalists from the threats and assault of hostile forces who want to muzzle the freedom of the press for vested interests.

This year, the PTFoMS oversaw the 51st case of media killing that resulted in a guilty verdict, bringing to 68 the total number of media killers convicted by the courts.

Meanwhile, presidential aspirant and Sen. Manny Pacquiao called on the PNP to solve the case and condemned the murder as an “undeniable proof of the glaring impunity that continues to pervade in our country.”

“It is a pity that helpless members of the media when they are not harassed through court cases are harassed with violence,” Pacquiao said. – Emmanuel Tupas, Evelyn Macairan, Miriam Desacada, Ramon Efren Lazaro, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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