Edgar Damalerio’s family affirmed on 18 June 2002 that the local police was obstructing the investigation into the death of the Radio DXKP reporter. The main suspect, police officer Guillermo Wapile, was finally released after interrogation. He had however been formally identified by two witnesses as the journalist’s murderer. One of the witnesses, Edgar Amoro, is reported moreover to have received death threats. The journalist’s wife now lives in hiding for fear of reprisals and the family’s only hope is that an investigation be ordered at national level.
Pagadian’s City Police Superintendent Asuri Hawani, who it is thought may be involved in the murder of journalist Edgar Damalerio, has been suspended from duty by Philippine police chief, General Leandro Mendoza. The journalist had repeatedly criticised Hawani for failing to put a stop to drug dealing and rising crime rates in the city of Pagadian on Mindanao island. Asuri Hawani has denied having ordered the assassination. The National Bureau of Investigations has expressed its concern at the delay in issuing a warrant for the arrest of the principal suspect, Guillermo Wapile, a police officer, who has been formally identified by two witnesses. The delay is due to the fact that a request to quash the decision in 1999 to release Wapile on bail, after he was arrested for aiding and abetting a theft, has been filed with the city prosecutor.
One of the suspects arrested by the National Bureau of Investigations (NBI) on 17 May is a police officer, Guillermo Wapili. He was apparently identified by a witness who was standing just a few metres away from the scene of the crime. Pagadian police continue however to claim that the known offender Ronie Quilme, who was arrested the same day, has been identified as the killer by another witness, who was some 100 metres away from the journalist’s car. Despite the caution with which this evidence should clearly be treated, and in spite of the opinion of the City Prosecutor, the police in Pagadian have initiated murder proceedings against Ronie Quilme. Sources close to the investigation claim that local police are trying to cover up for Guillermo Wapili, a police officer under Pagadian’s City Police Superintendent, Asuri Hawami, frequently criticised by the journalist Edgar Damalerio.
Police investigating the murder of journalist Edgar Damalerio have arrested four suspects. The four, whose ages range from 21 to 45, were found to be in possession of knives and revolvers when they were arrested in a village near Pagadian. The journalist’s two colleagues who were present when he was assassinated are expected to give eye-witness evidence. Pagadian’s chief of police, Asuri Hawani, stated on 16 May that Ronie Quilme, a local gangster, had been formally identified by a witness as the killer of the journalist. A charge of murder has apparently been filed against him with the city prosecutor. The National Bureau of Investigations (NBI) has however expressed doubt about this information, emphasising that it would be difficult for a witness to identify someone at a distance of more than 100 metres.
"For several years now, Reporters Without Borders has condemned the fact that those who have killed journalists in the provinces of Mindanao Island remain unpunished. The government must react now, by mobilising the police and judiciary to investigate these murders as a matter of urgency", writes Robert Ménard, Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières - RSF), in a letter to Interior Minister José Lina.
This expression of grave concern by RSF follows the murder of journalist Edgar Damalerio, who worked for the public radio DXKP and was editor of the local Zamboanga Scribe in Pagadian, in the west of Mindanao Island. The organisation that defends press freedom called on the Minister to "intervene so as to ensure that the security services identify those who carried out and those who ordered this murder." RSF has asked to be kept informed of the investigation’s progress.
According to RSF’s information, Edgar Damalerio, a journalist with the public radio DXKP and editor of the local Zamboanga Scribe, was killed on 13 May 2002, as he was driving home from work in a jeep with two colleagues. A police officer is quoted by the Associated Press agency as having stated that the journalist was shot at point-blank range by two unidentified individuals riding a motorcycle. The attackers managed to escape.
According to some of his colleagues, Edgar Damalerio, who was known for his integrity, had written numerous articles about corruption in political and police circles in this region of the Philippines where the security forces are fighting armed separatist groups. According to the police, the killers could be those who recently murdered two officials from Pagadian.
Edgar Damalerio is the second journalist to be killed in the southern Philippines since 1 January 2002. In April, journalist and human rights activist Benjaline "Beng" Hernandez was killed by soldiers in Cotabato province. In addition, at least two journalists were killed on Mindanao Island in 2001, making this one of the world’s most dangerous regions for journalists.