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MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE - 12:48 p.m.) The family of murdered Palawan broadcaster Gerardo Ortega on Tuesday demanded a “full-blown investigation” into what they called the “cover-up” surrounding the death of suspect-turned-witness Dennis Aranas and dared Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II to make good on his promise to punish those responsible.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said the "web of deception and corruption that has been cast to prevent the efforts to bring those responsible for Doc Gerry’s death to justice has made a mockery of 'tuwid na daan' (straight path)," and challenged President Benigno Aquino III to take a direct hand in the matter, telling him, "the ball is in your hands."
In a statement, Ortega’s eldest daughter Michaella, who often speaks for the family, reminded Roxas of his promise to “deal due punishment to the guilty” should “proof of a cover-up” over Aranas’ death present itself.
Aranas, who had confessed to being the lookout of the hit team that assassinated Ortega in Puerto Princesa on January 24, 2011, was found dead in his cell at the Quezon district jail in Lucena City last week.
Jail officials claimed Aranas had hanged himself after supposedly suffering from depression. This was bolstered by an autopsy conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation, which said he had died of asphyxia by hanging.
However, the Aranas and Ortega families doubted the suicide angle and raised suspicions the inmate, who had been discharged from government’s Witness Protection Program, had been murdered.
However, on Monday, the Public Attorney’s Office released the results of its own post-mortem report on Aranas’ remains and ruled out suicide. The PAO said Aranas was likely beaten up, held down and then strangled by at least four persons.
“There is proof, dear Secretary,” Michaella said in the statement, addressing Roxas.
“Our family demands a full-blown investigation,” she added.
Ortega’s daughter said the PAO’s findings “causes our family to grow weary of the threats we are now facing.”
“It appears that those involved (in the Ortega murder) are hell-bent on eliminating any and all obstacles keeping them from walking scot-free,” she added.
In a separate statement, the NUJP said the events after Ortega's murder were "clearly meant to cover up not only his murder but also that which caused it -- yes, corruption -- the plunder of Palawan’s share of the Malampaya Gas Project, his crusade against which made Doc Gerry a marked man."
Addressing Aquino, the NUJP said: "It was under your watch, Mr. President, that he (Ortega) was murdered for doing what you promised to do, work to stamp out corruption."
"As we have said before, if President Benigno Aquino III really wishes to fulfill his vow of good governance, one of the fastest ways to do so is to solve the murders of journalists because most of these killings stemmed from the victims’ efforts to uncover the very corruption Aquino claims he wants to stamp out," the NUJP said.
The group also called Justice Secretary Leila de Lima's order for the NBI to investigate the real cause of Aranas' death "out of kilter."
"After all, was it not an NBI autopsy that buttressed the BJMP's claim of suicide?" it pointed out.
Soon after Ortega’s murder, the members of the hit team were either captured or surrendered.
Among them was Rodolfo “Bumar” Edrad Jr., who admitted to hiring the killers and named former Palawan governor Joel Reyes as the one who allegedly ordered the hit on Ortega. Bumar used to be a bodyguard of Reyes.
Reyes and his brother Mario, mayor of Coron, have been declared fugitives, each with a P2-million bounty on their heads, after they fled the country a few days before a Palawan trial court issued a warrant for their arrest.