Probe sought on Aranas’ alleged suicide
Another journalist fears for life
MANILA, Philippines - The family and supporters of murdered journalist and environment activist Gerry Ortega fears that the lives of other people involved in the killing may be in danger and his case in peril.
Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Thursday that he fears for the life of Rodolfo "Bumar" Edrad, who led the team that killed Ortega and pointed to former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes as the mastermind.
Edrad is under the government's witness protection program, where Dennis Aranas - the lookout in Ortega's murder who was found dead in a jail in Lucena City this week - used to be until he was removed by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
"'Pag nawala si Bumar, tapos na ang kaso natin," Hagedorn said. "Pinaka-worried kami kay Bumar. Siya ang pinakaimportanteng witness dito. Ang pressure, nasa kanya. Siya ang talagang hinahanap ngayon."
Aranas was the second witness in the Ortega murder to die, allegedly by suicide. The first one was the person who allegedly hired Ortega's killers, Percival Lecias, who died from a kidney disease last year.
Ortega's family and supporters doubt Aranas committed suicide, raising suspicions of foul play.
Nonoy Espina of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said he spoke to Aranas' wife, who told him it was not in Aranas' personality to commit suicide.
"Maaaring nalulungkot siya sa loob, pero hindi magpapakamatay 'yon. Hindi siya ganyan," he quoted Aranas' wife as saying.
Ortega's wife Patty and daughter Mika are calling for a probe into Aranas' death, noting the dubious circumstances surrounding it.
Mika noted Aranas' remains were no longer in the cell when his family came.
"Marami pong bagay na talagang kaduda-duda," Mika told reporters. "Talagang pinananawagan naming ang isang otopsiya, at inaabangan naming kung ano ang magiging konklusyon niyong NBI autopsy."
Loophole in witness protection
Sen. Teofisto Guingona, the committee's chairman, believes there was a "loophole" in the witness protection program.
According to the DOJ, Aranas was removed from the program because of a criminal case filed against him in Lucena. Guingona said it might also happen to Edrad.
"If you want to get a witness out of the witness protection program, all you have to do is file a criminal case somewhere else so that that person now has to face that criminal case and exit the witness protection program," he said. "This seems to be a loophole."
Guingona is convinced that officials of Palawan misused funds from the Malampaya natural gas project. Based on testimonies by various resource persons during the past two hearings on the issue, he said the projects funded through Malampaya royalties were substandard and violated government regulations.
Not last on hit list
In Palawan, however, people fear talking about this issue because of Ortega's death, according to local journalist Redempto Anda.
"A lot of journalists, especially journalists who are covering the story, have opted to stay away from the issue. If you go to Palawan, not a lot of people talk about this anymore," said Anda, Ortega's close friend who writes for the Inquirer.
Anda said he could not see any other reason behind Ortega's killing in January 2011 but his criticisms of the local government's mishandling of Malampaya funds.
"He was very, strongly critical of the overall mismanagement of government funds by the provincial government. He had documents and information alleging malfeasance," he said.
Anda now fears for his own life because he and Ortega were together in exposing the Malampaya fund anomalies.
Quoting Edrad, Hagedorn earlier informed Anda that Ortega is not the last journalist on the hit list.
Since then, he never goes out without a security escort. "It's a lifestyle that I have to adjust to," Anda said.
Slow pace of justice
Ortega's family admitted during the hearing that they are becoming impatient with the slow pace of justice for Doc Gerry.
Patty lamented that almost all the people involved have been caught and yet the case has not prospered, with the mastermind managing to slip out of the country using a fake passport.
"Hindi ko na alam kung tama pang umasa ako sa justice system na umiiral sa ating bayan," she said.
Guingona vowed to go deeper in his committee's investigation on the issue.
Another hearing will be called, but he did not give an exact date yet.
"This is a case about grave injustice done to one man, Doc Gerry, who spoke the truth," the senator said. "This is a case of grave injustice done to the Filipino people."