Grief in absence

A journalist was killed yesterday. For the second time in six years in my supposedly peaceful hometown of Palawan, a radio broadcaster in the prime of his life became another statistic in the list of Philippine journalistic killings. Gerry Ortega, a 47-year-old radio commentator, was instantly killed by a bullet to the head on the morning of January 24, 2011.

I remember the first time it happened. Well, not the first time, for the Philippines has a shameful culture of impunity regarding the journalistic killings that make the media one of the most dangerous arenas to work in. Assassination is a very real and ever present hazard for reporters and broadcasters who dare to oppose the rich and powerful elite. But the first time it became more than a news story to me was on May 22, 2006, when Fernando “Dong” Batul, also a radio commentator, was killed. Young (only 37 years old), intelligent, and charismatic, he stood firmly on the solid ground between cowardice and sensationalism. He was fearless, but he was also fair, and the people of Palawan loved him and knew he was on their side. His popularity, however, could not save him from a particularly brutal death: 12 bullet wounds were found in his body after gunmen ambushed him on his way to work. Four weeks before that, 2 grenades were lobbed at his home, a final warning after numerous death threats had failed to stop him from exposing the political corruption in the province. When even that was unheeded, the people of Palawan, me included, turned on our radios on the morning of May 22 to hear news of his assassination.

I do not know as much about Ka Gerry Ortega. I have been away from Palawan for years, and the first time I heard the news was this morning, on Twitter. With a heavy heart, I texted my dad, asking for details. What happened? Who could have done this? Was the gunman caught? It turns out the police were able to apprehend the shooter as he tried to escape, a man from Taguig, Manila, who is now declaring that robbery was his motive. I may not have all the details, but I doubt it. A thief does not shoot his intended victim directly in the head, in a public place at ten o’clock in the morning. Ka Gerry had many enemies, and one of them wanted him dead.

I do not know much about Ka Gerry Ortega, yet I speak out. I speak out because silence is what the oppressor wants, because silence is surrender, because silence is a desecration of every drop of blood that was spilled to give us a voice. Silence is apathy, and apathy gives permission for evil to prosper. I speak out to say that this cannot be condoned, this cannot be accepted, this cannot be forgotten. We as a people cannot call ourselves courageous when we allow the bravest of us to be cut down with impunity.

And I grieve. Knowing so little about the man, being so far away from home, still I grieve. I claim the right to mourn because I share the same love that Dong Batul and Ka Gerry died for, the love that Palaweño musician Pat Marquez sings of in his farewell songs for each of them. I mourn because I love Palawan, too, in all its incredible and fragile beauty and its peace-loving people who have somehow escaped cynicism against all odds. And with a fierce, deep pride I love my country, though that love is mingled with an inescapable sadness because I know that we can be so much more.  We can be so much more, but we’re not. Yet. Because in grief there is also hope that no amount of spilt blood can quench.

Rest in peace, Dong Batul, Gerry Ortega, and the 140 0ther Filipino journalists killed since 1986. You are not just statistics, and you will not be forgotten. We will speak out, we will grieve, and we will remember. And we will hope. Most of all, we will hope.

Tribute songs by Pat Marquez:

Di Mapipigil (for Dong Batul)

Ka Gerry (for Gerry Ortega)




6 thoughts on “Grief in absence

  1. Doc. Jerry Ortega is a person close to me and my family, far from that Mr. Dong Batul is also a close friend of my family way back then and we cherish that friendship until this very moment. I can’t just help but comment on the issue.Truly, this is the 2nd worst in d his2ry of journalism in Puer2 Princesa since d’ time of Mr. Dpng Batul. Not to forget the other 140 & more in the rest of d world.
    I remember Sir Jerry as the 1st media personality here in Puerto to interview me for my life testimony in his intention to share inspiration to other people. And I remember too that after the interview he did cried bec. he was one of those touched & moved by our story. And bec. I was just in a wheel chair during those times he still felt the heart to accompany and assist me until we leave the station after the program.
    It was not a long conversation but enough to cherish that chance we had with some one like him. I now question – What is next to freedom of speech and of expression. We should do hope but also take part to action. These people are also us. We are one. We will miss you Sir Jerry… But surely they are right, you will never be forgotten. All of you.

    • Thank you for sharing that, Ivy. We cannot change what happened, but we can make sure that they did not die in vain. Let’s keep on remembering them and fighting for justice.

  2. This is a great article about, dad. Thank you.

    I certainly hope you keep burning, you keep shedding light to people.

    As my family seeks justice, that is imprisoning the perpetrators, we also seek true justice. And true justice is only when we, as a people, are changed. No longer silent as it were. No longer cowering behind our mediamen. Silence and cowardice isolates our heroes, we are not helping them. We are just making it easier for oppressors to zero in on them.

    My family hopes, even in our misery, grief and anger, that in silencing one honest man, thousands take his place in telling the truth. That in putting to rest a hero, thousands of other heroes stand up for what is right. That in killing a candle light, a million other candles are lit.

    My father was a loving man. He loved very very well. And the challenge for those who are left behind, those who were loved by him is this: to love with my father. To love the things he loved. To understand and commit for causes to die for but more importantly, causes to live for.

    Again, great article.

    • This is only a small gesture in the light of what happened, but by God’s grace, if enough of us speak out, we will be able to abolish the curse of apathy. I believe in my heart that we are not a nation of cowards. Your father, and others like him, are proof that there is heroism in us.

      I am praying, Mika, for justice for your dad, and for courage for our people. May God’s comfort be with you and those who love him. I will not say “loved”, for he is still a part of so many lives. His light shines on in the candles that were lit because of him.

  3. Nice article for Gerry. Thank you. Gerry deserves recognition. Gerry was my batch mate in High school. We were like brothers and sisters. We just had our 30th year reunion last Aug 27 to 29, 2010 and Aug 28 was Gerry’s birthday. We had dinner and celebration in their home. We were so happy. We didn’t know it will be his last birthday. But I am glad I do what Gerry suggested and we make him happy too. Gerry was so alive. I can still remember his loud laughs and the stories we shared. Past and present. He told us his plans, his projects, he brought us to the “fire fly watching”. Our reunion finale was the singing of a farewell song and well wishes lead by him. We agreed that Gerry will be the Chairman and lead organizer for our next reunion in 2012. But where is Gerry now? He was silence by a coward. Gerry has so much hopes and good plans for Palawan! We lost a friend and we grieve. We demand Justice for him. We will support his advocacy. He will remain in our memories forever. Gerry will always be alive in every Palawenos heart.

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