More than two years after journalist’s murder, suspect surrenders

New York, September 13, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the surrender and detention of former police officer Guillermo Wapile, the lead suspect in the 2002 slaying of journalist Edgar Damalerio.

In a press conference today, Philippine National Police Chief Edgar Agilpay announced that Wapile surrendered to police in Camp Crame on the southern island of Mindanao yesterday, after two weeks of negotiations, according to international news reports and local press groups.

Wapile had been charged with murder in a January 2003 warrant, but had been a fugitive since that time, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.

A gunman shot Damalerio, 32, managing editor of the weekly newspaper Zamboanga Scribe and commentator for DXKP Radio in Pagadian City, while the journalist was driving home from a press conference in Pagadian City on May 13, 2002. Damalerio was killed by a single bullet to the chest.

Two witnesses riding in Damalerio’s jeep identified the gunman as Wapile, a Pagadian City police officer. (His name has also been spelled Wapili in earlier accounts.) Although an investigator from the National Bureau of Investigation said his office had recommended as early as May 17, 2002, that local prosecutors arrest Wapile, the suspect was only briefly detained at the time. In January 2003, he was taken into custody again, but escaped two days before a judge could issue the arrest warrant.

Local press groups have considered Damalerio’s long-stalled murder case a symbol of the culture of impunity in the Philippines, where the killings of journalists have repeatedly gone unpunished.

In August 2002, CPJ conducted an in-depth investigation into Damalerio’s murder and met with government officials to try to move prosecution efforts forward. CPJ believes that Damalerio, known for his critiques of corruption among local politicians and the police, was killed for his journalistic work.

“This important development in the Damalerio murder case was long overdue,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Now authorities must move aggressively on the prosecution— and bring to justice the killers of every slain journalist in the Philippines.”

According to CPJ research, four journalists have been killed for their work in the Philippines so far this year, more than in any other country except for Iraq. Forty-five journalists have been slain in the Philippines since the country became a democracy in 1986.