A question my son asked me tonight, why did a friend of mine get murdered? Earlier today, Dr. Gerry Ortega, a man I've known for close to three decades, was brutally killed in my normally peaceful hometown of Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
Gerry left behind his wife, Patty, a vet like he was. Also, five children, Mika, Erika, Joaquin, Sophia, and Bettina. Words cannot express my condolences to them for their loss. They are in my prayers.
He died while shopping for shoes, reports say at a small store near his wife's clinic. Not a fancy shop, just a simple shop selling inexpensive clothes. That was Gerry, he was never flashy or fancy and dressed simple and neat.
The gunman claimed at first it was robbery. But how? Robbers rarely shoot their victims before getting their money, and from behind. More so, they rarely shoot someone who just got off a marked media car, in this case a Ford SUV with huge ABS-CBN stickers.
Gerry was the head of projects for Gina Lopez's ABS-CBN foundation as its director in Palawan.
He also had an active media career. He had a morning radio show on a local RMN affiliate in Palawan. He also had stints on PBS-owned DWRM Radyo ng Bayan and was also working at GMA Super Radyo. Earlier in his career, he was general manager of DYPR of the old Palawan Broadcasting Corporation, which was recently purchased by ABS-CBN.
He was an asset to the Lopez clan in Palawan. He was to ABS-CBN a Kapamilya.
If memory serves me, he also did programs at DYER the local environment radio station. He wrote columns in the local papers too.
He made friends with a who's who in media and in politics. If you mentioned Palawan and Doc Gerry, presidents, senators, congressmen and others knew who Gerry was. He made the place special.
This man was simple at heart. He took the time to talk to people from every walk of life. He remembered names. He was a leader, entertainer, media figure, and perhaps a future leader of his province.
But to me, he was a friend who came when I needed to be scolded or advised in a well meaning way.
I will never forgot when my mom died. It was Gerry saying prayers over my mom shortly after she passed away at our condo in Quezon City.
Gerry rarely judged people. He sometimes got angry with those who did wrong but always kept his cool. He tried to be peacemaker but would never back down from a good fight.
He did a stint in political life as a board member and also was executive director of a DENR project many thought would never succeed: the Palawan crocodile farm.
With the team he had, he made it not only viable but a globally known project. His team even caught the largest saltwater crocodile in the country.
I knew his dad, the late Mayor Rafael Ortega, whom we all called Manong Totoy. He, like Gerry, used to invite me to Aborlan and have me do reports for local TV on illegal activities in the hills above his town. His brother ran and won as mayor of their hometown of Aborlan. My condolences to his entire family.
If there are few men in this world we can, as real men, say we cared about , I guess even though at times we had differences of opinion Gerry was one of them.
It didn't matter also if one didn't speak for years. Gerry was always there with a smile, a warm handshake and offering advice or listening to those whom he cared about.
Gerry and I used to go up to hills above Puerto Princesa City years ago - then to chase down illegal log poachers and small scale loggers who were damaging a watershed illegally. He was part of DENR then, and didn't condone the blind eye some in that department had to the illegal cutting.
Because of this personal crusade to protect the watershed, trees were eventually replanted in one of largest forest festivals that take place yearly in Palawan - the Pista ng Kagubatan or the forest festival of Palawan. He never asked for credit for that but he deserved it.
As a broadcaster, he was hard-hitting. If he had a bias, it was against those who abused power or enriched themselves on taxpayer's funds. He was member of Couples for Christ, active in his church. He was and remains my friend.
Why was he murdered, shot in the back of the head by a killer who didn't even face him head on? That is for the police to investigate. I will not speculate nor attempt to make any armchair investigation.
It was because of local residents, some off-duty firemen and a local small town police chief the suspect was grabbed before he could get away. Even if he was armed, when people saw what he had done, he was taken into custody alive.
Who might have been behind it? That's uncertain. Do people close to him have suspects they think might have been behind this? Yes.
I will not discuss that for now. But hopefully soon I'll be there to report on it when they are brought to justice.
All I can tell for now is my friend was murdered. He was many things, wore many hats. He was above all a good person at heart. A fun guy to be around, a man's man who cared for his country, his province, his environment and did all he could to protect it. From what I saw, he did his best to be a good husband and father to his family.
I will miss him and will work hard to do what I can as a journalist to answer my son's question. A question I am sure sons and daughters are asking their parents all over Palawan today. Not so much as to who pulled the trigger but why?