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PIA Press Release

Ilocos vice mayor faces murder raps for Laoag radioman's slay

by Cristina Arzadon

Laoag City (21 June) -- The vice mayor-elect of Bacarra in Ilocos Norte is facing charges for murder and attempted murder along with his close-in security in connection with the killing of broadcast commentator Jovelito Agustin on June 15.

Pol. Supt. Bienvenido Rayco, chief of task force Agustin, said vice mayor Pacifico Velasco and Leonardo Banaag have been charged with the June 15 murder based on the pieces of evidence that the police have gathered.

Velasco and Banaag and two other suspects namely Ricky Acosta and Moymoy Baldemor will be charged with attempted murder in connection with the strafing of Agustin's house on May 7.

The charges will be separately filed before the city and provincial prosecutors' office today (Monday).

Rayco said Velasco was implicated in the murder of Agustin because of his association with Banaag.

"The car used during the strafing incident belongs to Velasco. Banaag and Velasco were seen together before, during and after the May elections," Rayco added.

The police have reviewed previously taped radio programs of Agustin and discovered that Velasco had been at the receiving end of harsh commentaries for nearly two weeks in line with the vice mayor's graft and corruption case during his tenure as town mayor.

Velasco has been convicted of graft at the Sandiganbayan. The decision, which has been affirmed by the Court of Appeals, is still pending at the Supreme Court for final determination.

Agustin started hitting Velasco before the elections and continued attacking him in his program even after the elections, the police said.

"This may have motivated Velasco to retaliate against Agustin," Rayco said.

Police said Velasco is still supposedly confined at the St. Luke's Hospital in Quezon City for an undisclosed illness.

The police had earlier identified Banaag as the triggerman based on the eyewitness account of Agustin's nephew Joseph who was with him during the ambush.

Agustin was shot and killed on June 15 as he was heading home to Bacarra town.

Meanwhile, various media groups will mount a protest march on Wednesday (June 23) to condemn the latest media killings.

In a statement, Melvin de la Cuesta, president of the Media Active in Ilocos Norte, called on outgoing President Macapagal-Arroyo and incoming President Benigno Aquino III to put an end to the culture of impunity in the killing of journalists.

"Please dispel the belief that those who attack and murder journalists can get away with it. When will the killings stop? There must be an end to this killing frenzy committed by enemies of press freedom," he said.

De la Cuesta said the group welcomes the swift identification of Agustin's possible gunman but noted that the police must go further by identifying the brains behind the attack, file the necessary charges and put them behind bars.

"While we are saddened by the latest media attack, we must show that we will never be cowed by anyone in the exercise of our responsibilities as guardians of truth and democracy," the statement read.

"We urge incoming President Aquino to hold accountable those responsible for the killings. Your promise of a new beginning for the country must start with your resolve to end these killings."

"You promised to follow a path that is different from your predecessor. Bodies have been piling up, yet the present administration seemed to have looked the other way or has just simply refused to bring justice to the victims," it added. (PIA) [top]

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