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Joaquin



In a country where violence is commonplace and the truth is often distorted or even completely erased, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to be a journalist. Joaquin Briones embodied that courage every day, up until the last moments of his life.


Jun, as he was known to family and colleagues, lived and worked in Masbate in southern Luzon, where journalists are often under threat from corrupt politicians and their private armies. It would have been easy to just go with the flow and follow the dictates of the powerful, but Jun chose to report about the things that tear the fabric of community: illegal fishing, the proliferation of drugs, gambling, environmental destruction. And when you write about the dirty things that local politicians have dipped their hands in, you're bound to rile them up.


Jun started as a reported in 1996, eventually getting a radio programme that he called 'Dos por Dos,' where he tackled local issues. Two years later, he decided to start his own newspaper which he named after his radio programme.


The possibility of costly retaliation from the subjects of his reports and criticism constantly loomed over Jun, especially as his was the lone voice against those he called the poderoso (powerful) of Masbate at the time.


Sure enough, while he was based in Manila, 13 libel cases were filed against him by the poderoso—mostly provincial board members and directors—whom he had criticised in his publication. Forced to travel the 230 miles between Manila and Masbate for his twice-weekly hearings, Jun found himself at the mercy of the poderoso's manipulations which included postponing the hearings when he was present and pushing through with them when he couldn't make it. Drained financially and frustrated by how he was clearly being blocked from defending himself properly, Jun eventually discovered that he had been found guilty on five cases and sentenced in absentia to 12 years in prison in 2000.


He was granted parole after five years and quickly resumed his work as a journalist. Unfazed by the years he spent behind bars, he went back to doing what he believed journalists should do—holding corrupt, ineffectual government officials to account.


Four years later, he would find himself hounded again by his tormentors, this time through five libel cases filed by then-vice governor Vince Revil and the Masbate Electric Cooperative (Maselco) whose counsel was Revil's uncle and lawyer. Jun had criticised Revil's office for its failure to submit to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) the provincial board's opposition to the building of coal-fired power plants, thus leading to the DENR issuing Maselco a clearance certificate that allowed it to build a coal-powered plant. Revil's excuse? His office ran out of printer ink.


Jun was a tough man, but faced with the prospect of being jailed again for speaking out, he couldn't help but shed tears in an interview with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). He was scarred enough to object to his daughter's ambition to become a journalist like him. He was worried that she too would live most of her live being harrassed by the poderoso.


Jun managed to survive the threat of imprisonment from Revil and Maselco, but with the arrival of Duterte and his attacks on journalists, an even more dangerous threat loomed over him. Jun was aware of the danger. He was even thinking about moving to Manila, knowing how his movements were being monitored in his hometown in Milagros. Yet he carried on with his hard-hitting opinion pieces, now published three times a week in Remate, a national tabloid.


On the morning of 13 March 2017, Jun was shot four times in the back by men on a motorbike. He was the second journalist to be murdered during Duterte's reign.


On 12 July 2018, Antonio del Rosario, a member of a gang notorious for moonlighting as for-hire killers, was arrested by Quezon City cops. He was identified as the main suspect in Jun's murder. The case against del Rosario dragged on for several years until it was dismissed because of the prosecution's failure to produce any witnesses.


Jun left behind his wife and five children. He was 54.



 

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