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Radio anchor shot dead in Cebu City, Philippines

In only the second incident of its kind in Cebu City, one of the Philippine cities known for its respect for press freedom, a radio anchor on his way to fetch his pregnant wife was shot dead on 14 September 2013. He was also the spokesperson for an anti-illegal drugs government agency.

Cebu City in the Visayas is some 1,000 kilometers south of Manila.

The Cebu police said a witness saw an unidentified man alight from a motorcycle and shoot radio anchor Jesus "Jessie" Tabanao at about 11:45 p.m. on Saturday 14 September 2013, in Baranggay (village) Kamputhaw, Cebu City. Tabanao was about to board his car so he could fetch his pregnant wife who was celebrating a friend's win as Miss Press Freedom, part of the city's Press Freedom Week annual celebration every September. The killer then fled on his motorcycle.

Tabanao hosted the programs "Police Line Up" and "Drug Watch", which had aired weekends on dyRC Cebu 648 since June 2013, according to dyRC representative Rhina Seco. Before working for dyRC, Tabanao worked for eight years at Bombo Radyo Cebu, where he became assistant station manager before resigning in 2008, according to Bombo Radyo anchor Jun Salve.

Tabanao was an accredited member of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP - the Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines).

At the same time, Tabanao was as an information officer of the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency (PDEA). According to Julius Navalez, former director of PDEA in Cebu City, Tabanao started as a jail-guard at the agency in Cebu City in 2008. Tabanao had recently been re-assigned to Region XIII in Mindanao and was only in Cebu for the weekend.

Navalez told CMFR in a phone interview last 17 September that Tabanao as PDEA information officer regularly spoke for the agency in news reports and in his own program in dyRC. Informants usually went to Tabanao first to give him tips that led to operations against illegal drug dealers.

According to Navalez, as well as representatives from Bombo Radyo and dyRC, Tabanao never mentioned if he received any death threats.

In a report from The Freeman newspaper in Cebu, Tabanao's wife, Katrina, said her husband did not let her know of any threats against him. His work involved confidential matters, she said, but his text messages to her right before he was killed seemed to indicate that someone was tailing him.

According to dyRC's Seco, Katrina also worked as a reporter for Sun.Star Cebu years ago. Katrina then worked for the capitol-run cable channel Sugbo TV but resigned some time before it was closed down in January 2013. Katrina is due to give birth next month. She and Tabanao have a nine-year old son.

Tabanao would be only the second media worker killed in the line of duty in Cebu City since 1986. The last one was Leo Enriquez III killed in October 1987. But if proven work-related, Tabanao would be the 8th journalist/media worker killed in the line of duty in 2013 in the Philippines, and the 137th since 1986. He would also be the 19th killed in the line of duty under Benigno Aquino III's administration.

Tabanao's colleagues "condemn in the strongest terms the senseless and brutal killing". A statement from the Manila Broadcasting Company (MBC) and Cebu Broadcasting Company (CBC), parent companies of dyRC, said that it is "ironic that (Tabanao) was killed while Cebu is celebrating Broadcasters' Month and a few hours before the opening of the Press Freedom Week (in the city)."

"(We) condemn the killing as another attack on the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press," the statement said, even as the police have yet to identify the motive behind the killing.

Meanwhile, the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) urged the police to speed up the investigation on the killing. "Whatever the motive, the murder cannot be condoned," CCPC's statement said.

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