Gunmen kill key witness in Damalerio murder case

New York, February 2, 2005—A key witness in the 2002 murder of Philippine journalist Edgar Damalerio was killed by gunmen in the city of Pagadian this morning—the second witness to be slain while the suspect, a former police officer, awaits trial.

Edgar Amoro—who identified former officer Guillermo Wapile as Damalerio’s killer— was gunned down outside a local high school despite being in a witness protection program. He was scheduled to testify in a court hearing this month.

“We are saddened by the death of Edgar Amoro, who demonstrated great courage in identifying the suspect in Damalerio’s killing and agreeing to testify in court,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said today. “The government’s failure to ensure the safety of such an important witness is a tragic reminder of the inadequacies of a system that has allowed dozens of journalists to be killed without a single conviction.”

Three unidentified gunmen shot Amoro as he left Zamboanga del Sur National High School around 11:30 a.m. Amoro, who had received death threats, was enrolled in a protection program that entrusted his security to local police.

Jury Lovitaño, a second potential witness in the case, was killed in an ambush in August 2002, CPJ reported at the time. (Other news reports also gave his name as Jury Ladica.) A third witness, Edgar Ongue, survived an attempt on his life when his assailant’s gun malfunctioned last year, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He fears for his life and has requested additional government protection.

Damalerio’s wife, Gemma, appealed in October 2004 for Wapile’s trial to be moved outside of Pagadian to ensure the security of the witnesses, but the Supreme Court has not acted on her request.

“Given these shocking attacks on witnesses, we call on the court to consider this important request to move the trial,” Cooper said. “A change of venue would serve the interests of justice and help protect the lives of people who are doing their civic duty by coming forward as witnesses.”

Forty-eight journalists have been killed for their work since the Philippines became a democracy in 1986. No one has been convicted in any of the murders. Earlier this week, editor and publisher Maximo “Max” Quindao was seriously wounded in a shooting in Tagum City.