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Police officer suspected in journalist's killing dismissed

(CMFR/IFEX) - A suspect in the 13 May 2002 killing of Filipino journalist Edgar Damalerio has been dismissed from the police force. His former immediate superior was also fired in an order issued by the Philippine National Police (PNP) chief.

On 8 January 2003, PNP Chief Hermogenes Ebdane ordered the dismissal from the police service and forfeiture of all benefits of PO1 Guillermo Wapile and former Pagadian City police chief superintendent Asuri Hawani. Both are barred from holding any public office.

The order was issued after several media groups met on 7 January with PNP officials over the slow progress of the investigation into the Damalerio killing and other unsolved cases of Filipino journalists killed in the line of duty.

At the meeting, Damalerio's widow, Gemma, lamented the apparent efforts of the local police force to protect Wapile.

Damalerio, a broadcaster and newspaper editor, was shot dead on 13 May 2002 while on-board his private jeep in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur, 780 kilometres south of Manila.

Despite a positive identification by two witnesses, who were with Damalerio at the time of the killing, that Wapile was the killer, Hawani filed murder charges against another person. He failed to investigate Wapile, who was his subordinate at the time, or file charges against him.

Ebdane's order said that Hawani "even used the name of Gemma Damalerio in filing charges against a supposed fall guy."

On his decision to fire Wapile, Ebdane stated, "As a police officer, he (Wapile) has a duty to maintain peace and order in the community, protect the lives and limbs of the citizenry and not to victimize the people [he is] bound to serve." Allowing Wapile to continue in the police force, Ebdane said, "would be a great insult to the organisation."

Ebdane added that Hawani "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 also said that there were aggravating circumstances that led to Hawani's dismissal, among them his having "taken advantage of the position and (his) use of fraudulent means to commit the offense."

According to the CMFR database, Damalerio was the 36th Filipino journalist to be killed in the line of duty since 1986, and the 51st since 1961. Between 1961 and 1986, only two documented cases were solved, resulting in the imprisonment of the killers. However, since 1986, not one case has been solved. The CMFR database shows that, on average, three journalists have been killed each year since 1986, despite a decrease in the number of slain journalists worldwide.

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