Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) today protested the murder earlier in the day of TV presenter and magazine editor Sonny Alcantara, who was killed by a bullet to the head in San Pablo City (80 kilometers south of Manila) in a continuing climate of impunity for those who attack journalists. Persons close to the victim said he had felt under threat because of articles criticising the city’s former mayor.
"Sonny Alcantara is the third Philippine journalist to be murdered since the beginning of 2002", Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Interior Minister José D. Lina. "The predators of press freedom act with such impunity in certain regions of the Philippines that they show no inhibitions about attacking those who dare to denounce their crimes and corruption", Ménard said.
Referring to the investigations into the murders of journalists Benjaline Hernandez and Edgar Damalerio, which are blocked despite abundant evidence implicating military and police personnel, the letter urged the minister to intervene in order to ensure that both those behind this latest killing and those who carried it out are identified. It also asked that Reporters Without Borders be kept informed of the progress of the police enquiry.
Alcantara was the editor of the local bimonthly newspaper Kokus and presented a political affairs programme called "Quo Vadis San Pablo" on the private cable TV channel Celestron Cable. He was killed as he was leaving his home in the morning of 22 August. According to a San Pablo journalist questioned by Reporters Without Borders, an unidentified person called out to Alcantara as he was leaving his home, then pulled out a pistol and shot him in the head at point-blank range. Alcantara died on the spot while the assailant made off.
The shooting was witnessed by several persons who have so far refused to testify publicly for fear of reprisals. The police have opened an enquiry under the authority of the San Pablo City chief of police, Colonel Ernesto Cuison.
According to his widow, Alcantara had been receiving threats by telephone and letter for the past several weeks. In both his magazine and his TV programme, he had regularly criticised the municipal opposition, especially former mayor Vicente Amante, a very influential businessman in the region who is reputedly close to certain criminal organisations. A person close to Alcantara voiced the suspicion to Reporters Without Borders that Amante could have been behind this killing. At least 15 people have been murdered in San Pablo City since the start of 2000.