Police eyeing politician's role in radio journalist's killing

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 19 2010 11:53 AM | Updated as of Jun 19 2010 08:53 PM

LAOAG City, Philippines - Police investigators are eyeing the possible role of a local politician in the murder of radio journalist Joselito Agustin in Ilocos Norte on Tuesday night.

Chief Superintendent Constante Azures, Ilocos regional police director, said intelligence operatives have been deployed around Manila to monitor the movements of the politician.

"The individual I'm referring to is in Manila. There are many intelligence [agents] spread all over Manila," Azures said.

He, however, clarified that he could not yet name the politician or have him arrested because police investigators were still gathering strong evidence to pin the politician to Agustin's killing.

"Apparently right now I cannot just mention the name of that [politician] because we have to firm up all the evidence," he said.

Shooter named

Azures said that the politician's possible role in the killing cropped up after Agustin's surviving nephew, Joseph, positively identified one of their shooters.

Agustin and his nephew were on board a motorcycle when they were ambushed by 2 motorcycle-riding gunmen along the national highway in Barangay Barit, Laoag City on Tuesday night.

The radio journalist died in hospital at 1:15 a.m. Wednesday.

The regional police director said the nephew identified one of the 2 motorcycle-riding gunmen as Mark Leonardo Banaag Jr.

"He is being tracked right now. He went here in Vigan. He cannot move anymore. He better surrender, all police agents are on his track," Azures told reporters.

He said charges are also being prepared against Banaag, who is a close aide of the local politician.

Azures said they are also checking if Banaag is a member of a private army or of a gun-for-hire syndicate operating in the region.

'Partially' closed case

The regional police chief said they are now considering the Agustin case as "partially closed" with the pending filing of charges against Banaag.

He said police are working round-the-clock to determine if the local politician has the motive to order Agustin's killing.

"Nobody has slept yet," he said, adding that police investigators are reviewing records of Agustin's commentaries in the last 3 weeks.

Philippine National Police chief Director-General Jesus Verzosa has ordered Task Force Usig, a police group formed to focus on media and extra-judicial killings, to relentlessly pursue the case "until solved."

Verzosa also wants police units to continue pursuing cases of media killings until the gunmen and masterminds are charged and convicted in court.

Agustin's killing happened less than 24 hours after the murder of 52-year-old radio commentator Desiderio "Jessie" Camangyan of Sunrise FM radio station in Manay town, Davao Oriental.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said Agustin is the 139th journalist killed since the late President Corazon Aquino came into power in 1986, and the 102nd under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

International media groups have labeled the Philippines as the "deadliest country" for journalists in 2009, accounting for 37 of 132 journalists and support staff killed or died while working around the world.

The deaths include at least 30 local journalists in a politically motivated massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao province last November 23, 2009. With a report from Randy Menor, ABS-CBN Laoag