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Suspect arrested in 2001 killing of provincial journalist

(CMFR/IFEX) - One of the two suspects in the 2001 killing of Aklan journalist Rolando Ureta was arrested at 7:45 a.m. (local time) in front of the municipal hall in Numancia, Aklan on 27 November 2007. Aklan is a province approximately 345 km south of Manila.

Amador Raz was arrested by officers of the Aklan police in coordination with the Numancia police station on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Aklan Regional Trial Court (RTC) branch 4 Judge Marieta Jomena Valencia on 16 November 2007.

Raz did not resist arrest, said Senior Police Office Reynaldo Francisco, who heads the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Aklan. Francisco said about 10 of his men, in coordination with the Numancia police station, served the arrest warrant to Raz, who is a municipal employee in Numancia. Francisco said that they are still looking for Jessie Ticar, Raz's co-accused.

Raz, 58, was presented to Judge Valencia by the police, and was later brought to the Aklan rehabilitation center, the provincial jail. Raz will be arraigned on 29 November. Valencia's arrest warrant recommended no bail for the accused, as murder is a non-bailable offence.

Ureta, 30, then program director of Radio dyKR in Aklan, was killed while returning home on his motorcycle in Lezo, after his evening news broadcast on 3 January 2001, when an assassin riding pillion on a motorcycle shot him three times. He had been reporting on illegal gambling, illegal drugs and corruption at the time he was killed.

After being dismissed twice by Aklan prosecutor Apolinar Barrios, the case against Raz and Ticar was reopened on 16 January 2007 after the Department of Justice (DoJ), acting on a petition for review filed by Ureta's wife Emely, released a resolution ordering the reopening of the case. Raz and Ticar then filed a motion for reconsideration to the DoJ, asking for retention of the case's earlier dismissal on 6 February 2007.

"The motion for reconsideration filed by the accused, not having been resolved by the Department of Justice from the time the motion to hold in abeyance issuance of the arrest warrant was filed on Feb. 21 2007 up to the present, let a warrant of arrest be issued against the accused in accordance with the resolution of the Secretary of Justice dated January 16, 2007," read the warrant of arrest issued by Valencia.

Barrios first dismissed the case for lack of probable cause on 6 December 2004 and again on 10 February 2005 after Emely filed a motion for reconsideration.

Barrios rejected the testimony of eyewitness and "balut" vendor Gerson Sonio, who claimed he was ten meters from where Ureta was shot. ("Balut", or boiled duck embryo, is a Filipino delicacy sold by street vendors.) Sonio's testimony was contradicted by the testimonies of Perlito Sonio, his father, and of Diego Masangya, his uncle, who contended that Sonio was in Iloilo City at the time of the killing.

The 16 January 2007 resolution by the DoJ however said that "(w)eighed against the denials and alibis of respondents, said witness' affirmative testimony is stronger than a negative one."

The case has the potential to be the first of its kind to be tried in a special court should the DoJ deny the motion for reconsideration of the accused. Through Administrative Order 25-2007, Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno has created 99 special courts across the country to try and decide cases involving the killing of political activists and members of the media. Cases tried in special courts will undergo marathon hearings within 60 days and without postponements, with a decision to be issued no later than 30 days later.

The Ureta case is among those the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), a coalition of six media organizations formed in 2003 in response to the rising incidence of media killings, is helping prosecute through various forms of assistance to the survivors. FFFJ is composed of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the Philippine Press Institute, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (Association of Philippine Broadcasters), the Center for Community Journalism and Development and the US-based newspaper "The Philippine News".

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