Doctor Gerry Ortega, a Catholic radio journalist and human rights activist was shot dead on Monday, 24 January, in the city of Puerto Princesa, Palawan Island in the centre of the Philippines archipelago.
Ortega is the 142nd journalist to be killed in the Philippines in the last 25 years. Just days ago, the Filipino bishops issued a warning about the increase in crime and violence, which mainly affects journalists, men and women religious, activists, trade unionists, lawyers and those who defend the rights of the poorest and most marginalized of people.
A veterinary doctor, Ortega, 47, was involved in a campaign to protect the indigenous communities on Palawan Island. Often in his radio programmes he gave space to missionaries, Christian communities, NGOs and environmental groups which have launched a petition to prevent the destruction of one of the most beautiful islands of the Philippines. Palawan is at risk of being devastated by mining large projects authorized by the central and provincial Philippine Governments.
Palawan is populated by indigenous tribes such as the Tagbanua, Palawanon,Tau't Bato, Molbog and Batak, who live in small villages in the mountainous areas or along the coasts, thanks to fishing and subsistence farming. Construction work on roads for opening quarries and mining sites has already been started by multinationals MacroAsia and Celestial.
According to an agreement reached with the Government of Manila, 'MacroAsia' has the right of extraction on land that has always belonged to the indigenous communities, some of whom rarely have contact with the outside world. The mining projects put their survival at risk.
Campaigners have expressed outrage and dismay over the killing and reiterated to the Government their request to revoke a 1995 Mining Act that opened the way to exploitation of indigenous lands.
A hard-hitting broadcaster, Doctor Gerardo Ortega was also a passionate environmental advocate, a devout Roman Catholic, tireless crusader for justice and a devoted family man to his wife Patty and their five children: Mika, Erika, Joaquin, Sophia, and Bettina.
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