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Appeals court denies Mindoro journalist's petition for protection

(CMFR/IFEX) - In what could be a setback to the campaign for legal protection of journalists under threat, the Manila Court of Appeals denied on 27 June 2008 a petition for a writ of amparo filed by an Oriental Mindoro-based journalist. Oriental Mindoro is a province approximately 140 km south of Manila.

In a 21-page decision penned by Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang, the Court of Appeals' Former Special Third Division found the threat to life claimed by Nilo Baculo Sr., former broadcaster and publisher of the community newsletter "Traveler's News", "unsubstantiated."

Baculo asked the Supreme Court on 4 February 2008 to issue a "temporary protection order" under Section 14 of the Rule on the writ of amparo after an alleged hired killer told Baculo of a plot to kill him. The supposed hitman, a certain "Roger", said he refused the job upon knowing that it was Baculo he was to kill.

Roger, Baculo claimed, said he was hired by local businessman Wilfredo Caballero, Calapan City Administrator Antonio Perez and Councilor Allan Mañibo. The latter three allegedly got in touch with Roger through Maximo Evora, a retired provincial warden. All four are respondents in Baculo's petition. Calapan City is the capital of Oriental Mindoro.

On 11 March 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the Court of Appeals to decide on the continuance of the writ after granting Baculo's plea for a temporary protection order.

But the appellate court was "unconvinced" that respondents Caballero, Perez, and Mañibo wanted Baculo dead because of his hard-hitting exposés. "His tirades against respondents on events that happened eleven (11) or ten (10) years ago could not possibly be the reason why respondents want him dead only now," the decision stated, stressing that Baculo is "no longer part of the media."

The Court also "reasonably doubts the believability of petitioner's murder-plot story." It said that "(a)t most, (the) story is hearsay, a story relayed to petitioner by his would-be assassin."

"In a petition for a writ of amparo, petitioner must provide substantial evidence or such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion that there is a real and actual threat to his right to life, liberty and security. In this case, petitioner based his allegations on mere suspicions, presumptions, without substantial basis. This is not sufficient to warrant the issuance of the privilege of the extraordinary writ of amparo," the decision stated.

Baculo has yet to decide his next move. "Our justice system is rotten," he said in Filipino. "You have to die first before you can prove (the threat)."

It was the first time that a provincial journalist in danger has petitioned the High Tribunal for a writ of amparo. Out of the 71 journalists/media practitioners killed in the line of duty since 1986 in the Philippines, 68 were from the provinces.

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