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Gunman sentenced, masterminds free in Ortega slaying

Ortega family

New York, May 8, 2013--A man who said he was paid the equivalent of US$250 to kill Philippine radio journalist Gerardo Ortega, left, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for the 2011 murder, according to news reports and the victim's family. The Committee to Protect Journalists today joined with Ortega family in calling for the arrests of the suspected masterminds.

The gunman, Marlon Recamata, sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty to the killing in February 2011, had implicated others in the plot to kill Ortega, who was known for his outspoken coverage of corruption. An accomplice, Rodolfo Edrad, identified ex-Palawan provincial governor, Joel Reyes, and his brother, Marjo Reyes, former mayor of a small resort town, as having ordered the murder in retaliation for Ortega's reporting on local mining operations.

In April, though, an appellate court blocked efforts by the Department of Justice to arrest the Reyeses, saying the department was over-reaching, according to news reports. While the department plans an appeal, the Reyeses have reportedly fled.

The case has been marred in other respects. In February, another accomplice who became a prosecution witness was found dead in his prison cell in Lucena City, Quezon. Prison authorities said Dennis Aranas had hanged himself, but an investigation by the public attorney's office found fingernail marks and other injuries that indicated he had been attacked.

"We have seen this before in the Philippines. Low-level hit men are tried and sentenced, while powerful political figures remain outside the grasp of the law," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "Everyone's eyes are wide open to that fact that Gerardo Ortega's case is far from being closed. CPJ joins with the Ortega family in calling on the government of President Benigno Aquino to bring real and complete justice in this case."

Ortega, host of a talk show on DWAR, was shot in the back of the head as he was shopping in a Puerto Princesa City clothing store shortly after his morning broadcast on January 24, 2011.

"For cases of slain journalists, it is rare to convict the gunman. Make no mistake: This is a victory. Our family welcomes it," his daughter, Michaella Ortega, said in a statement. "But let's not stop here.  ... We implore our authorities--who recently claimed that the brothers may very well be in the country--to please work harder in tracking the Reyes brothers. We call on President Aquino, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas and Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, to please help us have a fair and honest trial against the Reyes brothers."

The Philippines ranks third worst worldwide on CPJ's Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain regularly and the killers go free. Fifty-five journalist murders have gone unsolved in the Philippines in the past decade. Only Iraq and Somalia have worse records.

To fight impunity in press killings, the Committee to Protect Journalists has launched Speak Justice: Voices Against Impunity, a new digital platform to help break the cycle of fear and censorship.

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