Journalist’s Killer Dismissed

Source: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

A policeman accused of killing Pagadian City journalist Edgar Damalerio has been ordered removed from the police force. His immediate superior was also dismissed.

In decisions issued earlier this month, PNP Chief Hermogenes Ebdane ordered the dismissal from service and the forfeiture of all benefits of PO1 Guillermo Wapile and former Pagadian City police chief Superintendent Asuri Hawani. They were also disqualified from further holding any public office.

The dismissals were issued six months after Damalerio’s relatives filed administrative and criminal charges. Frustrated with the slow pace of justice and the apparent efforts of the local police to protect the killer, media organizations held a dialogue with PNP officials on January 7.

The decisions were issued in response to appeals made by the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and the Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD).

Damalerio, a hard-hitting radio commentator and managing editor of the Zamboanga Scribe, was shot dead on May 13, 2002 as he was driving his owner type jeep along Pajares St. in Pagadian City, not far from police headquarters and the city hall.

Two witnesses riding with Damalerio positively identified Wapile as the killer. But Hawani filed murder charges against another person, and failed to investigate Wapile, much less file the appropriate charges against him. Hawani even used the name of Damalerio’s widow Gemma in filing the charges against the supposed fall guy.

“As a police officer, he (Wapile) has a bounden duty to maintain peace and order in the community and to protect the lives and limb of the citizenry and not to victimize the people they are bound to serve,” Ebdane said in his decision. “To allow the respondent to continue his services in the PNP would be a great insult to the organization,” he added.

In Hawani’s case, Ebdane said he “displayed unprofessionalism in the discharge of his official duty contrary to the mandate of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.” Ebdane added that there were aggravating circumstances that merited Hawani’s dismissal: his having taken advantage of his position and use of fraud to obstruct justice.

Media groups in the Philippines and abroad have closed ranks over the killing of Damalerio who is the 36th Filipino journalist to be killed in the line of duty since 1986, according to the CMFR. None of the killers of these journalists has been caught.

“The Damalerio case represents an opportunity to break the cycle of impunity and catch the killer,” said Sheila Coronel, PCIJ executive director, during the dialogue.

While the killing of journalists elsewhere in the world has been going down, the Philippines has consistently logged two to three journalists killed every year. This makes the Philippines “the most dangerous place in the world for journalists,” said A. Lin Neumann, representative of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which puts the number of killings at 39. “No where else in the world have more journalists been killed in the last 15 years than in the Philippines.”

At the forum, the media groups put up the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists that will raise funds to provide financial and legal assistance to journalists under fire.