Dong Batul shot dead
P1-M reward offered for information on assassins
By the Bandillo News Team/May 22-28, 2006 issue
FERNANDO “DONG” BATUL, the most popular and hard-hitting broadcaster in Puerto Princesa, was assassinated while on his way to work at radio station DYPR last May 22.
He was the first journalist killed in Palawan. Batul would have turned 37 on May 24.
Batul sustained 12 gunshot wounds, mostly in the head and chest, from .45 caliber and 9-mm handguns, Dr. Arlene Gaan from the Cooperative Hospital said. One of the bullets hit him right between the eyes, witnesses said.
Two suspects wearing helmets and riding a blue Honda motorcycle fired on Batul at close range, witnesses said. He was alone in his service vehicle, a dark green multicab, when the suspects shot him as he slowed down near a road hump on the corner of Valencia and Manalo streets, about 100 meters from DYPR, police said.
The gunmen fled toward the city center. Police had no immediate suspects, but the provincial government of Palawan and city government of Puerto Princesa have each offered half a million pesos reward for information on the killers.
Batul was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital, near the scene of the crime. He was on his way to work as radio commentator for the popular radio program “Bastonero” when he was gunned down at about 6:45 a.m.
The incident happened nearly a month after a grenade attack on the Batul family residence in Bgy. San Manuel. Two live grenades were thrown inside his house last April 24 but these did not explode and were safely detonated. The attackers had posted a letter in red ink on the gate, warning Batul of dire consequences if he did not stop his hard-hitting statements on the airwaves.
Batul has incurred the ire of local politicians, rival broadcasters, military officials and erring government personnel due to his unrelenting and fiery attacks on corrupt practices and various anomalies for the past 10 years.
Mayor Edward Hagedorn, a frequent target of Batul’s critical commentaries, immediately washed his hands off the incident.
“Hinding-hindi natin gagawin ito. Hindi ko linya iyan. Alam ko na lahat mag-iisip na si Mayor iyan. Hindi totoo iyan,” Hagedorn said.
“Ang kinatatatakutan ko dito, wala kasing iba ever since. Ang gusto ko ang proteksyon ni Dong Batul dahil pag may nangyari sa taong iyan, ako talaga ang pagbibintangan at hindi magiging maganda ito sa image ng Puerto Princesa sa panahong kinokondena na ang pagpatay sa mga journalists,” he added.
“Marami namang puwedeng gumawa maliban sa akin,” Mayor Hagedorn said.
Gov. Joel Reyes expressed shock and dismay when he was interviewed at the hospital.
“I do not know what to say. Napakalaking dagok nito sa ating lalawigan,” he said.
“Wala tayong magagawa ngayon kundi to stay calm,” he added, saying this would be a major challenge for law enforcement agencies in the province.
Media colleagues, political leaders, and supporters of Batul are eyeing different angles regarding the killing, although it is widely believed that it was work-related.
Lourdes Escaros-Paet, Batul’s closest colleague at DYPR, tearfully revealed on the air that he was supposed to leave for Manila on May 24 to file a media corruption case against two broadcasters in a rival radio station in Palawan.
Former DYPR station manager Gerry Ortega, a close friend of Batul and associate in the religious group Couples for Christ, said he had warned Batul after the grenade attack that the threat on his life was serious, but the latter had refused to take extra precautions.
Many supporters who called up DYPR expressed grief and condemnation over the incident, which shocked residents in what is reputed as one of the country’s safest cities.
“Mariin naming kinokondena ang brutal at karumal-dumal na pagpatay kay Dong Batul,” Bishop Pedro Arigo said.
He called on the killers to claim responsibility for the killing and come out into the open, saying “sana’y magising sila sa katotohanan at huwag magtago sa dilim.”
Rep. Abraham Mitra described Batul’s killing as “a very, very serious matter” as no violent incident of this nature has ever been recorded in Palawan. He called on the police to solve the incident in the soonest possible time, saying “pag hindi mahuli, dapat talaga magpalit ng pamunuan.”
He said criticism from the public is part of every politician’s life, but added that conflicts with the media “should be decided in court” and not through killings.
“Definitely work-related ito,” Provincial Information Officer Rolando Bonoan, Jr. said. “Hindi naman basagulero si Dong at wala naman siyang personal na nakaaway na gagawa ng ganito,” he added.
“Ang nakakaalarma dito, this will send a continuous threat to all of us, hindi lang sa media. Hindi na tayo ligtas sa ating sariling lugar,” Bonoan said. “Paano pa ipaglalaban ang prinsipyo kung ang media ay takot na?”
Lyle Coruña, president of the Palawan Press Club, said: “We condemn the killing. Nakikiusap kami sa mga otoridad na bilisan ang imbestigasyon.”
DYPR did not immediately issue an official statement on the killing, and legal counsel Allan Carlos said the station was still awaiting the return of general manager Lulu Ilustre to Palawan.
From Media to Politics
Batul first gained popularity as a commentator on the evening program Kulog at Kidlat on RGMA radio station in the mid-1990s, before he successfully ran for vice mayor of Puerto Princesa City in 2001. He was unseated before he could finish his term, and suffered a subsequent electoral defeat in 2004.
After his stint in politics, Batul returned to broadcasting and rose once again to prominence as host of the popular morning program Bastonero. He is widely credited for putting DYPR on top of the ratings game among the four local AM stations last year.
As a radioman, Batul’s integrity and fearlessness were well known. But he also endeared himself to needy Palaweños who came to him for help, especially in medical emergencies.
Batul was scheduled to go on leave for three weeks, Paet said. Among his plans were to bring his mother to Baguio City for a vacation, and to go on a “soul-searching” trip due to the threats on his life arising from his work in the media.
A bachelor, Batul is survived by his mother and five siblings. He was the youngest in the family.
Batul’s remains were brought to the Princesa Funeral Homes in Bgy. San Pedro.
According to press reports, Batul is the 5th broadcaster killed in the Philippines this year.