FAST BACKWARD: A brief history of Davao’s media killings

Fast Backward by Antonio V. FigueroaWith the spate of killings affecting members of the Fourth Estate in Davao region, it is safe to say that media persons have indeed become an endangered species. In the past 30 years or so, over a dozen journalists have died violently in the region by means of assassination.

By far the worst crime against the press was the August 27, 1987 attacked launched by the New People’s Army (NPA) of dxRA, a radio outfit owned by the Rizal Memorial Colleges. News commentator Leo Palo, assistant Cesar Maglalang, reporter Rodjie Sagado, technician-on-board Narciso Balani and five civilian guests died on the spot from multiple gunshot wounds.

In the early 1990s, dxUM block-timer announcer Pedro ‘Pete’ Dahan, who was into ‘last-two’ gambling at a time when the illegal numbers game was popular, was shot dead. The rumor mills attributed his death to a love-triangle affair, but pundits linked it to on-the-air betting.

Decades later, on September 6, 2003, Juan Porras Pala, a hard-hitting broadcaster of dxGO, was shot dead after the first two tries on his life failed. Known for his staunchly anti-communist commentaries, he was a former city councilor and at one time contested Davao City’s mayoralty against OIC-mayor Zafiro L. Respicio and then vice-mayor Rodrigo Duterte in 1987.

On July 18, 2006, block-time broadcaster Armando Racman Pace of Radyo Ukay DXDS, was shot in the head and chest by two motorcycle-riding assailants on his way home from work in Digos City. Prior to his death, he was facing libel lawsuits filed by politicians. The gunman was later identified and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

On December 24, 2007, Fernando ‘Ferdie’ Lintuan, survivor of the dxRA attack, was gunned down by motorcycle-riding assassins. He had just left his radio program at dxGO, owned by the Manila Broadcasting Company, when he was attacked. His two companions in the car, both radiomen, were not hurt.

On November 23, 2009, in what is known as the ‘Maguindanao Massacre’, two Davao-based journalists, namely Santos Gatchalian of dxGO and Lindo Lupogan, a reporter of Mindanao Daily Gazette, were among the 30 media personalities killed in the gruesome incident.

On April 8, 2012, Aldion Layao, a radio block-timer at dxRP and barangay chairman, was shot dead by motorcycle-riding assassins inside his car while on his way home from his radio program. He sustained gunshots in the neck and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

Exactly a month later, on May 8, 2012, unknown assailants riding on a motorcycle shot dead Nestor Libaton, a broadcaster of the Catholic-run dxHM radio station in Mati City as he was leaving for the town of Tarragona, Davao Oriental. No motive was found for the murder.

On December 10, 2013, Rogelio “Tata” Butalid, a block-timer of Radyo Natin station in Magugpo Poblacion, Tagum City. He has been in broadcast since college working as a scholar for dxDN. A village councilor of Barangay Mankilam at the time of his death, his assassination was linked to the contentious Davao del Norte Electric Cooperative (DANECO) issues.

The following year, on May 23, 2014, Digos City broadcaster Samuel Oliverio Radyo Ukay dxDS, owned by the University of Mindanao Network (UMBN), was driving home from the market when he was shot on the head and nape by motorcycle-riding attackers. Police confirmed his death was work related and politically motivated.

On August 18, 2015, Gregorio Ybañez, publisher of the local newspaper Kabayan News and president of Davao del Norte Press and Radio-TV Club (DNRPC), was fatally gunned down at the entrance of his house in Barangay Magugpo North, Tagum City. His killing was linked to the protracted battle between two DANECO factions. He was a director of the National Electrification Administration (NEA) bloc.

On June 7, 2018, at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon, Dennis Denora, publisher-editor of Trends and Time and DNPRC president was killed by motorcycle-riding assailants in Barangay New Pandan, Panabo City in what was suspected to be a politically-laced murder. Prior to setting up his own publication, he used to write a column for People’s Daily Forum and Peryodiko Davao.

The roster of journalists offering their lives in the name of their profession is getting longer. But what strikes as consistent in most of the media murders is the way the killers made their motives accomplished, i.e., riding in tandem.

(The other two Davao journalists who also died violently were Edgar Nagar of DXDC and Gorge Batoctoy of the defunct National Media Production Center. The killings occurred in the early 80s in Davao City – Editor)