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Venue of journalists' murder trials changed following successful petition by CMFR and other organisations

(CMFR/IFEX) - On 18 March 2008, the Philippine Supreme Court granted a petition by the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) to transfer the venue of the trials of suspects in the killings of two Aklan-based journalists to another branch of the Regional Trial Court (RTC). Aklan is approximately 345 km south of Manila.

The Supreme Court approved the petition for change of venue and ordered the Kalibo RTC clerk of court to send all records on the cases of the suspects in the Rolando Ureta and Herson Hinolan killings to the executive judge of the Cebu City RTC. The Court also asked the Cebu City RTC to immediately raffle off the cases upon receipt of the records.

Ureta was killed on 3 January 2001 by two assailants on a motorcycle in Lezo town, Aklan. Hinolan was shot on 13 November 2004 by an unknown assailant outside a carnival in Kalibo, Aklan and died two days later at a local hospital.

In its letter dated 5 February 2008, the FFFJ, a coalition of six media organizations formed in response to the tide of journalist killings, and the NUJP asked the High Court to transfer the venue of the trials of the suspects in the Ureta and Hinolan killings from the RTC of Kalibo, Aklan to any branch of the Cebu City or Makati City RTC "to avoid a miscarriage of justice and to dispel the impression that a culture of impunity encouraged by government inaction makes the Philippines 'the most murderous place for journalists.'"

The FFFJ members are the Center for Community Journalism and Development, CMFR, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Philippine Press Institute, and the US-based newspaper "Philippine News".

FFFJ said that "(b)ecause of the clout and influence of the accused in the area as shown by their ability to unduly influence the investigation of the case, witnesses have been reluctant to break their silence and testify for fear of retaliation. To date, the masterminds of the crime remain free, as none of the law enforcement agencies dare to enforce the warrant of arrest against them and/or conduct further investigations to shore up the prosecution's evidence."

The Ureta and Hinolan families said they were grateful for the approval of the petition.

"I'm really happy that the case was transferred. . . . because it would be hard to achieve justice if [the suspect] is tried here in Kalibo," said Aphrodite Hinolan, widow of Herson Hinolan.

"I feel more encouraged (that justice will be achieved) now that the case has been transferred to another venue," said Rolando Ureta's widow, Emely.

Updates the Ureta case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/89629

Updates the Hinolan case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/91484

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