The accused in the killing of radio broadcaster Joselito Agustin, also known as “Aksyon Lito”, was found guilty for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The guilty verdict marks the 50th media killing case in the country which resulted in conviction.
In a 15-page verdict promulgated on Tuesday (February 2), Judge Romeo E. Agacita, Jr. of Branch 27 of San Fernando, La Union Regional Trial Court (RTC) convicted Leonardo Banaag, Jr. for the murder of Agustin. He was also ordered to indemnify the victim’s surviving heirs the total amount of Php300,000.00.
Agustin was a broadcaster for DZJC Radio Station in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte. He was shot to death on the night of June 15, 2010 by motorcycle “riding in tandem” gunmen while on his way home near the vicinity of Brgy, Barit, Laoag City.
The numerous incidents of media-related violence during the past administrations prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to create the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) upon assumption in office in 2016 specifically to monitor, investigate, resolve and prevent media killings.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary and PTFoMS co-chair Martin M. Andanar commended the decision of Judge Rojas as finally giving justice to the victim and family of Agustin. “Justice has been achieved and we’ll make sure that the likes of Banaag will feel the dire consequences of their heinous deeds. No matter how long it takes, the Duterte administration will always ensure that justice will be served to all perpetrators of media violence.”
On the other hand, Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco, Executive Director of PTFoMS, expressed gratitude to the court for convicting Banaag. “No media killing will ever go unpunished. This is the promise of President Duterte to our media workers in creating the PTFoMS. So far, fifty cases of media killings have resulted in the guilty verdict for their crimes against journalists. This indeed is concrete proof that the culture of impunity in the Philippines has come to an end.”
The verdict was reported to PTFoMS during one of the meetings with the local Philippine National Police (PNP) called upon by the task force as part of its drive to monitor all cases of media killing nationwide.
PNP Police Region Office 1 previously reported to the task force that prior to the shooting, Agustin was known for lambasting local politicians in his radio program, particularly the late Pacifico Velasco, former mayor and vice mayor of the municipality of Bacarra, Ilocos Norte who died in 2019, for alleged corruption and ties to illegal gambling.
PNP also reported that accused Banaag was previously employed by Velasco as part of the latter’s security detail. He was arrested by the police for the murder of Agustin a few months after the incident. The accused remained in prison while the case was being tried by the court.
In the decision, the court also convicted Banaag for the crime of Attempted Murder for shooting and injuring Joseph Agustin, the broadcaster’s companion at that time, and was sentenced to an indeterminate penalty of 6 to 8 years imprisonment.
To highlight the importance of the work done in the Agustin murder case, PTFoMS chief Egco issued Certificates of Commendation to the officers, men and women of Laoag City Police Office.
Egco also thanked the Prosecutors of the Department of Justice who handled the case in helping to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.
“Despite the present challenges, the task force remains committed, vigilant and relentless in its mandate in making sure that the life, liberty and security of media workers are protected. As long as this task force exists, come hell or high water and no matter who you are, anyone planning to harm any of our media workers will bear the full brunt of the law. The 50 convictions over the years would speak for itself,” Egco added.
The decision in the Agustin murder case brings to 50 the total number of media killing cases which resulted in conviction, including 31 in the Ampatuan Massacre case, 15 other work-related killings and three non-work related deaths. PTFoMS