May 15, 2002
Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
President, Republic of the Philippines
Via facsimile: 63-2-735-6152
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the recent murder of Edgar Damalerio, managing editor of the weekly newspaper Zamboanga Scribe and a commentator on DXKP radio station in Pagadian City on the island of Mindanao.
At about 8:00 p.m. on May 13, an unidentified gunman shot Damalerio in his jeep as he was driving home from a press conference in Pagadian City. He was killed by a single gunshot wound to his left torso.
Two witnesses riding in Damalerio’s jeep said the gunman, who was on a motorcycle driven by another unidentified male, was waiting alongside the road as Damalerio approached. The assailants fled the scene and have not yet been apprehended.
CPJ believes that Damalerio may have been killed for his journalistic work; he was known for his critiques of corruption among local politicians and the police.
Most recently, Damalerio had published an exposé of the Lanao del Sur Electric Cooperative revealing that the company had failed to account for 50 million pesos (US$1 million) earmarked for projects that were never completed.
On the day of Damalerio’s shooting, his wife sent him a text message alerting him that she had noticed two men “casing the house,” according to a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer by Hernan dela Cruz, the publisher of the Zamboanga Scribe.
A few hours before Damalerio was shot, an employee of the Scribe also reported receiving a number of mysterious anonymous calls. On May 14, an unidentified male made threatening phone calls to the offices of the Zamboanga Scribe implying that the staff of the newspaper was in danger, according to dela Cruz’s report.
Damalerio’s murder is only the latest in a string of killings that have been committed since democracy was restored in the Philippines in 1986. Thirty-eight journalists have been killed during the last 16 years, and none of the perpetrators has ever been convicted.
Journalists are especially vulnerable on the strife-torn island of Mindanao, where separatist Muslim guerrilla groups are battling the Philippine army.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ condemns your government’s failure to prosecute those responsible for the murders of the country’s journalists. Such impunity threatens the Philippines’ international reputation as a democracy that respects press freedom.
We respectfully urge Your Excellency to ensure that Damalerio’s killers are brought to justice in a timely manner, and that your administration makes public any findings from the investigation. We further ask that you take steps to ensure that all journalists in the Philippines can work without the fear of violent retribution.
Thank you very much for your attention to this important matter. We await your response.