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Philippines 14 August 2002

Key witness killed in the murder of journalist Edgar Damalerio in Pagadian

Despite the Philippine police’s denial, Reporters Without Borders stands by its view that the murder of militiaman Jury "Ladica" Lobitaña on 10 August was probably linked to his testimony in the murder of journalist Edgar Damalerio. Reporters Without Borders also reaffirms that Lobitaña’s name was added to the list of persons who were to benefit from the witness protection programme, and that this was done after he testified to National Bureau of Investigation in Manila. The organisation is not, however, in a position to say that Lobitaña was enjoying police protection at the moment of his death.

Reporters Without Borders again calls on the Philippine authorities to take all necessary measures to protect the witness, especially Edgar Amoro, and to obtain the arrest of the Pagadian chief of police, who is suspected of having ordered Damalerio’s murder, together with the arrest of the police officer suspected of having carried it out.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today voiced its outrage at the killing on 10 August of Gury Ladica, a protected witness in the 13 May murder of journalist Edgar Damalerio in Pagadia. The organisation called for the immediate arrest of the Pagadian chief of police and the police officer who are the prime suspects in Damalerio’s death. Ladica was one of three witnesses who had testified to the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila.

"The murder of a person benefiting from a witness protection programme established by the government is a very serious violation of the rule of law and shows how determined the killers of journalist Edgar Damalerio are to eliminate the witnesses", Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Interior Minister Jose D. Lina.

As everything suggests that Ladica was killed for having agreed to testify, Reporters Without Borders urged the minister to take every necessary measure to obtain the arrest of the police officer suspected of having killed Damalerio and that of the Pagadian chief of police, suspected of having ordered Damalerio’s killing. "Must the authorities wait until the other two witnesses are eliminated before intervening effectively in a case that has already caused enough damage to the reputation of the Philippine police", Ménard asked in the letter.

A Philippine army auxiliary, Ladica was gunned down on the evening of 10 August by men armed with rifles in a locality near Pagadian (Zamboanga del Sur province). He had gone to Manila from 23 to 28 July to testify to the National Bureau of Investigation and had since then been under the government’s witness protection programme.

In his deposition, Ladica said he had been approached by a senior police official in Pagadian and had been asked to execute Damalerio for a sum of money. Ladica said that he refused, but was later told that Guillermo Wapile, the main suspect in the case, had accepted the contract. Since returning of Mindanao island, Ladica knew he was under threat.

The other two witnesses, who were with Damalerio in his vehicle at the time of time of his death, have told Reporters Without Borders that they fear for their lives. One of them, Edgar Amoro, has turned down the offer of a police officer as bodyguard, but has accepted the protection of a civilian volunteer. Damalerio’s family, in particular his widow, have gone into hiding in the Pagadian region for fear of reprisals.

The local police, in particular the chief of police, Asuri Hawani, have tried to cover up their involvement in Damalerio’s death ever since an investigation got under way. Three days after Damalerio died, the police identified an individual by the name of Ronnie Quilme as the perpetrator, but the witnesses did not recognize him. The police nonetheless pressed charges against Quilme the same day, based on false testimony. For its part, the National Bureau of Investigation (the federal police) the next day arrested the police officer Wapile, who was identified by the witnesses. However, the fact was the public prosecutor filed charges one day after the police was exploited by the local police to block the proceedings.

As a result, Wapile was detained for several days but no arrest warrant was served against him. He enjoys the protection of the police chief, who should at the very least have been relieved of his functions because of his implication in the killing.

A journalist with the public radio station DXKP and editor of the Zamboanga Scribe, a local newspaper, Damalerio, 33, was gunned down on the evening of 13 May 2002 as he was heading home from a news conference in a jeep with two colleagues. After killing him outright, his two assailants made off. Damalerio was known for his integrity, and had published many articles on political and police corruption, especially concerning the police chief.

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