Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today called on interior and local government secretary José D. Lina, to make more resources available to police investigating the 8 July murder of newspaper reporter and columnist Bonifacio Gregorio, and to do everything else needed to identify and punish both those who may have been behind this killing as well as the gunman who carried it out.
The organisation also condemned the pressure and obstruction that is hampering investigations into the murders of Apolinario "Polly" Pobeda in May and Edgar Damalerio last year.
Gregorio, 55, was shot three times in the head outside his home in the village of Caramutan (in Tarlac province, 150 kms north of Manila) by a gunman who made off. He died after being taken to Ramos general hospital.
The former chief of his village, Gregorio had worked for the local weekly Dyaryo Banat (Newspaper Attack) since 1997. He wrote articles that were very critical of La Paz mayor Dioisio Manuel and had recently accused him of illegally transforming a rice paddy into a cemetery that was inaugurated the day he was killed. His widow, Gertrudes, said she had asked her husband to stop investigating stories that angered the local authorities. The mayor has denied any involvement in the killing.
The Tarlac news media association, which Gregorio belonged to, said his murder was a "spine-chilling message" to the press. Journalist Abel Pablo, who was in the middle of a telephone conversation with Gregorio when he was killed, has challenged the local police authorities to shed light on every aspect of the murder.
The provincial police chief has created a special task force to work on the Gregorio murder with the criminal investigations department. Shortly after the shooting, a police officer said it was the work of a contract killer. The task force’s head has suspended La Paz police chief Rodrigo de Guzman, who was known for his hostility towards Gregorio.
A police officer announced on 22 July that the police were on the heels of two gangs of killers, but refused to name any suspects. He also said the police were checking out a range of possible motives, including the possibility that the murder was a settling of scores stemming from Gregorio’s extra-marital affairs. Two former mistresses are reportedly among those who have been questioned.
In the case of Apolinario "Polly" Pobeda, a radio commentator gunned down near to Lucena (southeast of Manila) on 17 May, two witnesses told the police on 18 June that the were no longer prepared to testify because of pressure on their families. Three suspects have already been arrested. All are linked to the Talaga family, a member of which is Lucena’s mayor.
In the case of Edgar Damalerio, a journalist murdered on 13 May 2002 in Pagadian City (on the island of Mindanao), Edgar Amoro and other witnesses, and Damalerio’s family, have reported receiving new death threats from the leading suspect, Guillermo Wapile, a former police officer. Wapile is still at large after escaping from a police camp and has reportedly changed his appearance to avoid being recaptured.