Journalists renew calls for justice in reporter’s slaying

Manila, January 7, 2003—Philippine media organizations renewed protests against the stalled investigation into the murder of journalist Edgar Damalerio by calling for the immediate arrest of the chief suspect.

National police authorities and representatives from the office of Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo promised a group of journalists in the capital, Manila, today that action would be taken in the case. “This murder has really frustrated the president,” admitted Bobby Capco, Arroyo’s press undersecretary. Capco said that the president had ordered the formation of a task force to examine the case and determine why the investigation has been delayed. Capco also pledged that an arrest would come soon.

“Edgar Damalerio is a hero of Philippine journalism,” said Sheila Coronel, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, one of the organizers of a roundtable forum called The Silencing of Filipino Journalists. The meeting was convened to highlight the Damalerio case and other unsolved murders of journalists.

“We support the efforts of the Philippine press to stop these killings and secure justice for our colleagues,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Asia consultant, A. Lin Neumann, who attended the forum. “We urge the Philippine government to take the cases of murdered journalists seriously.”

A total of 39 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since democracy was restored here in 1986, according to CPJ research. No one has been convicted in any of the slayings, most of which occurred in provincial areas.

Damalerio, 32, an award-winning radio commentator and newspaper editor, was gunned down on May 13, 2002, in the southern city of Pagadian. He had frequently criticized politicians and corrupt officials on his program on radio station DXKP.

A local policeman, Guillermo Wapili, is the leading suspect in the journalist’s murder. “We have substantial evidence that Wapili is guilty,” General Marcelo Ele, Jr., of the Philippine National Police told journalists at the forum. Although investigators have contended since shortly after the crime that Wapili should be arrested and charged with murder, legal maneuvers repeatedly have delayed the issuance of an arrest warrant.

A CPJ investigation into the killing, which appeared in the fall/winter 2002 issue of Dangerous Assignments, found evidence of a local police cover-up and harassment of witnesses to the killing. (Click here for a copy of the article:) The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has conducted its own investigation into the crime. (Click here to read report)

Also during the Tuesday forum, five Philippine media organizations announced the establishment of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, which will help protect provincial journalists from assault and aid victims of violence against the press.