A Suspected Killer of Damalerio Arrested

3 February 2003
Source: Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

A local judge has ordered the arrest of a policeman suspected of killing a journalist eight months ago in Pagadian city, southern Philippines, after the Department of Justice (DOJ) dismissed the suspect’s petition for review of the criminal case proceedings against him.

In an order signed January 30, 2003, Executive Judge Franklyn Villegas directed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Pagadian City to arrest PO1 Guillermo Wapille, the primary suspect in the killing of journalist Edgar Damalerio last May 13, 2002. The order specified that since Wapile is charged with murder, a capital offense, “no bail is fixed by the court for the provisional liberty of the accused.”

Gemma Damalerio, the journalist’s widow, and Fe Damalerio-Balaba, his sister, described the order as “good news” in an interview with the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

The issuance of the warrant of arrest came after the DOJ in a January 16 resolution dismissed the petition for review filed by Wapile through his counsel.

In the DOJ resolution, Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño said that the DOJ “carefully examined the petition…and on the basis of the evidence on record, (the DOJ) found no error that would justify a reversal of the appealed resolution,” prompting the DOJ to dismiss the petition for review filed Wapile.

Wapile’s counsel filed the petition for review before the DOJ, as well as an urgent motion to defer and/or recall the warrant of arrest against his client on November 20, 2002.

In his petition, Wapile questioned the existence of probable cause as stated in the joint resolution filed by a panel of Zamboanga City prosecutors against him. Wapile said that “the purpose of preliminary investigation is to establish probable cause and to secure the innocent against hasty, malicious, and oppressive prosecution” which he said “has been capriciously and wantonly disregarded” by the panel.

In a joint resolution filed October 24, 2002, the panel of prosecutors the DOJ had ordered to look into the case found probable cause against Wapile for the murder of Damalerio. The panel also dismissed the nuisance cases filed against witnesses Edgar Amoro and Edgar Ongue.

Edgar Lavella, a lawyer consulted by Damalerio’s family, said that the motion filed by the defense counsel effectively resulted in the deferment of the issuance of the warrant of arrest and arraignment proceedings against Wapile, as well as the suspension of the case proceedings.

With the decision from the justice department, he said, there would be “no impediment for the implementation of the issuance of warrant of arrest against Wapile.” “The judge,” he said, “will have to take the necessary course of action to solve the case of Damalerio.”

A radio commentator and the managing editor of the “Zamboanga Scribe”, Damalerio was shot dead on May 13, 2002 in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur, 780 kilometers south of Manila. He was killed near the city police headquarters and the city hall.

Despite the positive identification by witnesses Amoro and Ongue who were with Damalerio at the time of the killing that Wapile was the killer, Pagadian City police chief Superintendent Asuri Hawani instead filed murder charges against another person. Hawani did not investigate his then subordinate Wapile, much less file charges against him. Although ordered dismissed from the police, Hawani and Wapille have been temporarily reassigned to the Philippine National Police’s Camp Abelon in Pagadian City.

When CMFR interviewed him January 29, Judge Franklyn Villegas of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 19 said that the court had not yet received a copy of the (DOJ) decision from the city prosecutor’s office. However, according to Villegas, who temporarily handled the case after presiding officer Rolando Goan went on leave, come February 1, 2003, the court would reissue the warrant regardless of any DOJ decision, or whether or not his office has received an official copy of the decision.

“I did not get an official communication from the DOJ (about the decision), but that is immaterial (to the issuance of an arrest warrant on February 1),” Villegas said.Nonetheless, Villegas stressed that “as soon as we get a copy of the DOJ decision, we could immediately re-issue the warrant of arrest.” He added, “We don’t have to wait for February 1 (if there is already an official copy of the decision). We just have to officially verify it.”CMFR was able to contact the Pagadian City Prosecutor’s Office and was told that it had received the official copy of the decision from the DOJ as of January 29.

According to Perlita Cariño, secretary of Assistant City Prosecutor Alandrix Betoya, the Office has filed a motion to resume the proceedings and to issue an arrest warrant on Wapile. The motion was filed January 30, said Cariño.On the same day, January 30, Villegas re-issued the warrant of arrest against Wapille.When sought by the CMFR to comment on the DOJ decision dismissing Wapile’s petition, Flavio Cordero, Jr., Wapile’s counsel, said that as of January 29, he had not yet received a copy. But if the decision indeed denies his client’s petition for review, Cordero vowed to “exhaust all legal and equitable remedies” to help Wapile. He added the he could file a motion for reconsideration before the DOJ, or file a motion of appeal before the Court of Appeals and/or President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Because of the motion by the Pagadian City Prosecutor’s Office to lift the suspension of proceedings and the deferment of arraignment and arrest warrant, the hearings will resume on February 7 in the court of Judge Villegas, RTC Branch 19 since the presiding officer of the case, Judge Goan, is still on leave, said Gemma Damalerio.

Meanwhile, Wapile’s former superior Hawani filed a motion January 22 to dismiss the administrative complaint against him, stating that his case is not within the immediate jurisdiction of the Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management (DIDM) of the Philippine National Police, where Gemma Damalerio and Fe Damalerio-Balaba filed the complaint.

In his motion, Hawani argued that the “Internal Affairs Service of the PNP has jurisdiction over the subject case” and not the DIDM. But, according to Damalerio-Balaba, she and her sister-in-law filed the administrative complaint before the DIDM because they were referred to the said office by the crusade group Violence Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) which initially helped them in the case.

Besides, she said, “why did the DIDM entertain us if they knew we could not ask them for help in the case?” She also added that Hawani and Wapile already knew that DIDM was investigating the case even at the start since they were being summoned a few times in the initial investigation by the DIDM. “Why are they only now questioning the handling of DIDM of the case?” she asked.The motion to dismiss the case by Hawani came 14 days after the PNP ordered the dismissal from the service of both Hawani and Wapile after the police found Hawani guilty of obstruction of justice and probable cause against Wapile in the murder of Damalerio. Denying reports that the dismissal orders were signed January 3, SPO4 Jose Herrreria said that the orders were signed January 8. Herreria is the Chief Clerk of DIDM’s pre-charge division.A day before Ebdane supposedly signed the dismissal orders, media organizations held a dialogue with top PNP officials in Manila. Together with the Damalerios and relatives and friends of other journalists killed in the line of duty, representatives from the media, government, and civil society discussed the worrying number of journalists killed in the line of duty.

Contrary to what was reported earlier, Damalerio is not the 36th journalist since 1986 and 51st since 1961 to be killed in the line of duty. The CMFR database shows that Damalerio is the 35th (since 1986) and 50th (since 1961) journalist killed in the line of duty in the Philippines

“The Damalerio case represents an opportunity to break the cycle of impunity and catch the killer,” said Sheila Coronel, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), during the January 7 media dialogue. “It is a rare opportunity for us to get the killer of a journalist,” she said.

Since 1961, only two cases have been verified to have been solved and which resulted in the imprisonment of the killers of journalists in the Philippines.

Not one case has been solved since 1986. The CMFR database shows that an average of three journalists have been killed since then per year, despite the decrease in the number of slain journalists worldwide.

The increasing number of journalists killed in the country because of their work and the constant number of journalists killed per year prompted Lin Neumann, Asia representative of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, to declare that the Philippines “has become the most dangerous place for journalists,” worse than other press hotspots elsewhere such as Columbia, Algeria, Pakistan, and Russia.

“Nowhere else in the world have more journalists been killed in the last 15 years than in the Philippines,” Neumann said during the January 7 discussions between media groups and the police in Manila.

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