16 August 2002
Witness in journalist's murder case killed, another receiving threats
(CMFR/IFEX) - On the night of 10 August 2002, Juvy Lobitaña, an apparent witness to journalist Edgar Damalerio's murder in Pagadian City, was killed in an ambush in Tukuran, Zamboanga del Sur province, in Southern Philippines. Lobitaña is an alleged Citizen Armed Force - Geographical Units (CAFGU) member who had inside information about the mastermind behind the Damalerio murder.
Edgar Amoro, another witness in the Damalerio case, and Fulgencio Raguine, the Tukuran chief of police and senior inspector, stated that one Dodong Daluyun visited Lobitaña at his home and asked to be accompanied to Pandoma on the night of 10 August. Lobitaña and two of his friends, Selmer Misal and Gil Ochate, agreed. While accompanying Daluyun to Pandoma county on a motorcycle with a sidecar (widely used for public transportation in rural Philippines), Lobitaña and Misal were shot and killed. Amoro told the "Philippines Journalism Review" (PJR) that Ochate was shot in the foot and is being treated at the provincial hospital.
During the attack, shortly before a volley of gunfire, two shots rang out, after which Daluyun jumped out of the vehicle. This led Amoro to believe that Daluyun was working for the attackers. Daluyun has not been seen since the ambush and Raguine said that the police are currently looking for him.
Police are still investigating the incident and are following up two leads, according to Raguine.
Meanwhile, Amoro, a media volunteer who worked with Damalerio, has been receiving death threats since the death of his colleague. Amore told PJR that he has been under surveillance by unknown individuals. He said that he has noticed several armed men in fatigues near his home and office. Amoro told PJR that he had been informed by "a reliable source" that "his days were numbered." He said that Camp Crame police officials had advised him to file a complaint and report further harassment to them.
Amoro told PJR that on the afternoon of 17 July, four armed men in fatigues aboard a pick up truck passed by his home but fled after being noticed. Later that night, at around 9:30 p.m. (local time), six armed men in fatigues passed by. He noted that the men did not sport name cloths on their uniforms.
Amoro has filed several cases against police officer Guillermo Wapili, the prime suspect in the murder case, and City Police Director Superintendent Asuri Hawani at Camp Crame Police headquarters for "grave abuse of authority", and "misconduct and obstruction of justice", respectively.
Wapili has filed counter affidavits against Amoro in response.
Damalerio was killed on 13 May as he rushed home from a press conference. He was managing editor of the weekly newspaper "Zamboanga Scribe", a commentator for radio station DXKP and a correspondent for the "Mindanao Gold Star" newspaper.
He died of a single gunshot to the chest as he was being driven home by Amoro. He had just attended a press conference called by the Zamboanga del Sur Electric Rural Cooperative when individuals aboard a motorcycle shot him at close range. He died on arrival at the hospital.
Damalerio was well known in the city for his reports exposing the corruption of government officials. "The Manila Times" newspaper reported that his last exposé was on the failure of the Lanao del Sur Electric Cooperative (Lasureco) to complete any of its projects during the administration of former Philippine President Fidel Ramos. The story, which appeared in the "Mindanao Gold Star" on 19 April, claimed that the company lied when it reported that the projects had been completed.
The murder case of another Pagadian-based journalist, Olympio Jalapit, has yet to be solved. Jalapit was killed on 17 November 2000 (see IFEX alert 20 November 2000).