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Ex-governor wanted in broadcaster's murder believed to have fled the Philippines

UPDATE: Philippines Department of Justice urged to uphold murder charges against former governor and mayor (IFJ, 10 September 2012)

(IFJ/IFEX) - 8 August 2012 - The IFJ joins its affiliate The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in expressing outrage at reports that former Palawan governor Joel Reyes has managed to leave the Philippines on a fake passport.

On 27th March 2012, The Regional Trial Court (RTC) of the City of Puerto Princesa ordered the arrest of Reyes in association with the January 2011 murder of broadcaster and environmentalist Gerardo "Gerry" Ortega.

However, in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report of Monday 6th August, unnamed sources confirmed that Reyes left the Philippines on March 18 on Cebu Pacific Flight 5J751 for Vietnam using a passport in the name of Joseph Lim Pe, issued on February 3, 2012.

In an urgent Memorandum dated 13 March 2012, Department of Justice Sec. Leila de Lima instructed the Bureau of Immigration to include the Reyes in its Watchlist and directed Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David Jr. "to instruct all immigration officers to be on the lookout for the accused, should (any of them) pass through the immigration counters in any of our international airports and/or seaports."

If reports are correct, Reyes left the country just one week before the Palawan regional trial court issued a warrant for his arrest, raising concerns that Reyes was informed of the government's intentions and was assisted in acquiring a false passport.

The Philippines is among the most dangerous countries in the world for media personnel. The IFJ issued an Action Plan to President Benigno Aquino III upon his inauguration on June 30, 2010 calling on his government to end the culture of impunity that has seen over 150 media workers killed since the return of civilian rule in 1986.

Ortega, who was killed on 24 January 2011, was the second journalist killed in the line of duty under the Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III administration. He was known for his environmental and anti-mining advocacies.

"The IFJ implores President Benigno Aquino III to immediately order a thorough and independent investigation and break the cycle of violence and impunity that has plagued the country for so long," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

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