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Publisher of community-based weekly killed

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The publisher of a community-based weekly in a province north of Manila became the fourth Filipino journalist to have been assassinated in 2005, the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) reports.

On 10 May, Philip Agustin, publisher and editor of "Starline Times Recorder", was gunned down in Dingalan town, Aurora province. CMFR, a founding member of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), is investigating the circumstances and possible motives behind the killing, focusing on allegations that the assassination was related to the victim's journalism.

Agustin was killed inside his daughter's house in Paltic village. He suffered a single gunshot wound in the head, the news website http://www.inq7.net reported. The report added that a .45-caliber gun was used in the killing. Agustin died at the municipal hospital less than an hour after the shooting.

In an interview with CMFR, town councilor Valentino Lapuz said the murder took place after Agustin reprinted a special edition of his paper which carried a story about alleged missing funds of the municipal government, and which put the local mayor, Jaime Ylarde, in a bad light. The special edition was expected be distributed on 11 May.

In November and December 2004, Aurora suffered massive landslides caused by typhoons, displacing more than a thousand families and causing massive damages to property.

Lapuz told CMFR that he and Agustin, who lost the mayoralty race in 1998, were planning to file graft charges against Ylarde.

Ylarde, on the other hand, denied any involvement in the killing. He told CMFR in Filipino, "Reports linking me to Agustin's killing make me laugh. I don't have anything to do with it. I was even surprised when someone from a TV station called and asked me about the killing."

Ylarde, however, branded Agustin's attacks against him as "politically-motivated."

"I was supposed to file a libel case against him because of the articles they had been writing about me. Their stories were too brutal," the mayor told CMFR. He described Agustin's stories as "malicious" and "libelous" and added that he was unaware that Agustin's paper existed until recently. Ylarde said that he ordered the local police to thoroughly investigate the killing.

Agustin was killed almost one week after the 4 May slay of Klein Cantoneros, a radio broadcaster in Dipolog City, southern Philippines (see IFEX alert of 4 May 2005).

The 54-year-old Agustin was the fourth journalist killed in the Philippines since the start of 2005. The New York-based organisation Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recently identified the Philippines as the "most murderous" country for journalists, edging out countries like war-torn Iraq and Colombia, where reporting on drugs, militias, and local corruption put reporters at great risk. Another international press freedom organisation, the Paris-based Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders, RSF), called on the United Nations to send a team to the Philippines to investigate the killings of journalists.

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