The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is deeply concerned by police investigations into the murder of journalists Christopher “Cris” Guarin and Alfredo “Dodong” Velarde, Jr. in General Santos City. Not only have the Philippines’ police failed in their duty to protect citizens from harm, but they are compounding this failure by their indifferent and casual attitude towards holding the killers accountable.
Guarin, publisher and editor-in-chief of a daily community newspaper Tatak News, was shot dead at 10pm on January 5, 2012 along Conel Road, Barangay Lagao, General Santos City. He was in his car with his wife, Lyn and nine-year-old daughter, on their way home, when they were attacked by gunmen riding on a motorcycle. His wife and daughter were not hurt, but were deeply traumatized to witness his murder.
Guarin’s murder followed the murder of another journalist, Velarde, in November 2011. Circulation manager of another daily community newspaper, Brigada News, Velarde was shot dead on November 11 in front of his office. Although the AHRC have learned that the motives for Velarde and Guarin’s murder were related, the police have been more focused on dispelling public expectations and any sense of urgency, rather than ensuring proper investigations into the deaths.
A day after Guarin’s murder, Senior Superintendent and city police chief Cedric Train, concluded that “the motive for the killing was likely not work-related”. Earlier, the police also concluded that Velarde’s murder was nothing more than “an ordinary shooting incident” common in the city. The police also rejected Velarde’s background as related to journalism or media work.
The AHRC is deeply concerned that the Philippine National Police (PNP), particularly the General Santos City Police Office (GSCPO), have completely misunderstood their responsibilities and obligations in conducting adequate criminal investigations into murder cases. Whatever the motive of the murder, and whatever the profession of the victim, it is the police’s responsibility to investigate and hold the perpetrators accountable.
Prior to Guarin’s murder, he had been receiving threats via SMS. In fact, a few hours before his murder, on air in his radio programme, Guarin read an SMS he had received warning him he would be killed once he left the radio station premises. It has become common for radio broadcasters to read threatening messages on air, not only to share this with their listeners, but also to alert the police authorities.
Guarin, a veteran radio broadcaster prior to publishing his newspaper, received similar threats in the past. His failure to make an official police record of these threats is not evidence of him ignoring the threats; rather, his practice of revealing the threats in public reflects the absence any protection mechanism. Most threats received by local journalists, newspaper or radio reporters are not taken seriously by the police.
Prior to Velarde’s work as circulation manager of Brigada News, while he was working as a newspaper dealer to a defunct daily bilingual newspaper in the city, Super Balita, he did not require body guards or escorts. Staff of a community newspaper needing body guards to deliver the newspaper has become a common practice in the city. Those who can afford to pay for bodyguards or security escorts do so, while others ask for the issuance of firearms for their protection from the police or military.
The local police have clearly failed in ensuring that local journalists are given protection in performing their duties. The routine, widespread and systemic lack of protection and security in many communities in the Philippines is such that those who hire killers, premeditate murder or commit crimes, have a complete disregard for any notions of crime, law and punishment. They do not fear the police or the law.
For public confidence in the law and its protection, as well as for the necessary deterrence of crime and criminals, it is crucial that the Philippines’ police demonstrate their utmost compliance to legal obligations, and their capacity to ensure crimes are adequately investigated and perpetrators held to account. Their failure to do so will only aggravate people’s uncertainty and sense of security.