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Suspects charged with attempted murder of radio broadcaster

(CMFR/IFEX) - Charges of attempted murder have been filed against two suspects in the 8 October 2007 shooting of radio journalist Jose Cagalawan Pantoja in Iligan City, Lanao del Norte, a province in southern Philippines.

With at least five witnesses, the Iligan City police filed the charges at the prosecutor's office a day after Pantoja, 44, who works as a radio block timer for dxLS FM Love Radio, was shot and wounded near the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology in the district of Tibanga.

Senior Superintendent Virgilio Ranes named the suspects as Romeo Ragasajo and Romeo Vequiso. Sketches of the two suspects were also released the same day.

Pantoja had just dropped off his daughter at school on his motorcycle at around 7:15 a.m. (local time) when he stopped by a photocopy shop near the institute to have some documents copied. A man wearing a ski mask came from behind Pantoja and shot him repeatedly in the stomach at close range. Pantoja was said to have pulled out a handgun but did not manage to fire back. The assailant fled on a waiting motorcycle driven by another man in a ski mask.

Pantoja was rushed to the Mindanao Sanitarium and Hospital in critical condition. While only three bullet casings were recovered from the crime scene, Pantoja's attending physician, Dr. Abner dela Cruz, said that the victim sustained five gunshot wounds.

Pantoja is the main anchor of the daily program "Katawhan Alagaran" ("Serve the people"), which discusses local politics. He is considered "hard-hitting" and is said to have received death threats prior to the attack.

He is also one of former Lanao del Norte governor Imelda Dimaporo's spokespersons. The Dimaporo clan is among the major power-holders in the province. He also ran as a councilor for Iligan City during the May elections but lost.

Apart from criticizing corruption in Iligan City, Pantoja also allegedly criticized First District Congress representative Vicente Belmonte, who beat Dimaporo in the elections. Pantoja also faced a string of libel suits, some of which have been dismissed.

Local press groups, Lanao Press and Radio TV Club have condemned the attack. The Cagayan de Oro Press Club (COPC) has formed a task force to help solve the case. COPC, as well as the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists and National Union of Journalists of the Philippines have called on national and local government officials to solve the case.

The attack occurred a week after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo instructed the newly installed national police Chief Avelino Razon, Jr. to address extrajudicial killings and leave a legacy of human rights protection.

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