Former policeman Guillermo Wapile was sentenced to life imprisonment on 29 November 2005 for the murder in 2002 of newspaper editor and radio journalist Edgar Damalerio.
Reporters Without Borders hailed the courage of both the journalist’s widow and of the chief witness to the murder that helped secure a conviction for his killer.
“Three and a half years after the murder, the justice system has finally cleared a major hurdle in this case, marked by the murder of three witnesses and total impunity for those who instigated the killing,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
A regional court in the southern city of Cebu sentenced Wapile to life imprisonment (30 years) for the murder of Damalerio, editor of the Zamboanga Scribe and journalist on radio dxKP in Pagadian, in the southern island of Mindanao. The former policeman, who had several lawyers in his defence team, had pleaded not guilty.
“Without the huge courage of chief witness Edgar Ongue and the journalist’s wife Gemma Damalerio and the tenacity of journalist Edgar Amoro - another witness who was himself murdered in February 2005 - this murder would have gone unpunished as have scores of others in the Philippines”, said Reporters Without Borders.
“The heavy sentence against this criminal, for so long protected by his superiors, is a victory,” the organisation said, “But it should not overshadow the horrifying impunity that reigns in the country. It is a great shame that the investigation and the trial should have been limited to the murder itself with no attempt made to identify those who instigated the killing.”
Gemma Damalerio told Reporters Without Borders, “Almost four years after my husband’s murder, we have finally obtained justice. It is a victory for all those in the Philippines and throughout the world who fought for Edgar Damalerio”. The journalist’s widow has been nominated for the Reporters Without Borders 2005 prize in the “press freedom defender” category.
Delivering his 12-page verdict, the judge stressed the crucial importance of the evidence given by eye-witness Edgar Ongue. The court, presided by Ramon Codilla, rejected false evidence given by several of Wapile’s associates, including policemen who tried to bolster his defence.
Since Damalerio’s murder in Pagadian on 13 May 2002, his family and witnesses lived in fear as they were targeted for successive murder attempts. On 2 February 2005, Edgar Amoro, a journalist and friend of Damalerio, was shot dead in the street in Pagadian. Another witness, Jury Ladica, had been murdered in August 2002.
Police in Pagadian failed to even try to identify Wapile’s accomplices or to hunt for those who ordered him to carry out the killing. Asuri Hawani, a police officer who constantly protected his former junior officer, was recently appointed security adviser to the mayor of Pagadian. Moreover the investigation into the murder of Edgar Amoro has now stalled, despite promises to the contrary given to Reporters Without Borders by Justice Minister Raul M. Gonzalez.