Doctor Gerry Ortega, the 142nd journalist killed since 1986, was not just a critic of local mining in Palawan. In fact, I met him more than eight years ago because of his involvement in a civil society group, Kilusan Love Malampaya. The group advocates that the people of Palawan should have an “equitable share” in the wealth generated by the Malampaya natural gas and oil field and in the percentage identified by the Local Government Code: 40 percent of all such income generated by Malampaya. This initiative led to the filing of a case, which was finally the subject of oral arguments by the Supreme Court last year. On the basis of the court hearings, it is clear that the Malampaya issue is a three cornered fight: between civil society of Dr. Gerry and Bishop Pedro Arigo who want to enforce the literal provisions of the Constitution and the Local Government Code, the local government that entered into an illegal provisional sharing agreement which Justice Antonio Carpio described during oral arguments as effectively “ an amendment of the law”, and the national government of former President Arroyo that sought to spend the Malampaya funds as its pork barrel.
It is unfortunate that Doc Gerry did not live long to see the outcome of the case that he has lived for. Meanwhile, it is my duty as a friend and as his counsel to correct the mistake of national media speculating that his death may be related to his opposition to three on-going mining projects in Palawan.
The truth is that prior to his death, Doc Gerry was in constant contact with me concerning Commission on Audit reports which detail how Palawan’s local government officials have misused sums given to Palawan as part of the provisional sharing agreements. He was the one who furnished me with a copy of just one of the many COA reports that involved ghost projects, inferior projects and crass misappropriation of public funds. Some of the recommendations of the COA were: “ Refund of P49 million representing excessive cost of projects, disallowance of a P25 million consultancy project, refund of P6 million representing deficiencies, file appropriate charges against (then) Governor Joel T .Reyes, Vice-Governor David Ponce-De Leon, members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and the Provincial Administrator x x x”.
While Dr. Gerry’s dedication to the preservation of the environment was in fact notable, police authorities should not discount the involvement of these local officials as masterminds in his murder. I, together with many Palawenos, believe that ultimately, it is these local elected officials of Palawan who may have the motive to silence Dr Gerry.
As of the writing of this column, it has been reported that the gun used for the murder is registered in the name of the former provincial administrator of former Governor Reyes.
Dr. Gerry was first and foremost, one of my closest friends. I will miss him. Already, I miss his weekly phone patch during his daily broadcast in the local affiliate of RMN in Palawan. Ironically, Doc Gerry took over the slot of another broadcaster, Dong Batul, who himself was murdered.
Perhaps it is high time that President Noynoy Aquino once and for all take back his earlier pronouncement and marching orders to Secretary Leila De Lima to run after tax cheats and smugglers as a matter of his highest priority. Please, please: it’s high time that this administration, swept into power on a platform of change, should now accord the highest priority to investigating, prosecuting and punishing the killers in our society.
The Center for International Law, of which I am the chairman, that stood as counsel for Doc Gerry and KLM, and as an advocacy group that seeks to promote freedom of expression, condemns in the strongest possible terms the recent murder of Doc Gerry as yet another affront on freedom of the press. We call upon President Aquino to spearhead an investigation into his death, even if some of those who may want to see Doc Gerry dead happen to be his party mates.
The bomb attack on a passenger bus along EDSA has highlighted anew the country’s inability to deal with modern-day terrorism. Part of the problem is not that we do not have sufficient legal infrastructure to deal with terrorism, as in fact we do, including the dreaded Human Security Act that I have consistently criticized as being inconsistent with our human rights obligations; but that we do not have a working justice system to effectively investigate and punish terrorist.
Recall that when world class bomber, Al Ghozi, was apprehended and detained in Camp Crame, the notorious bomber, probably not liking his food ration, simply walked out of his detention cell. Ironically, it has also been reported that our government created the dreaded Abu Sayaff terrorist group and that the past dispensation allowed our territory to be used as a training ground by the Jemiah Islamiah and other terrorist groups.
In like manner that a working criminal justice system is the panacea to the malaise of extralegal killings, the same is also the panacea to the problem of terrorism. Absent a working legal system, what we will continue to have is more of what we see every day: the streets of Manila and the Philippines reduced into a jungle where lawlessness and terrorism prevail. Will anyone please tell me: who’s in charge here?