Media groups applaud Philippine court's conviction

Media groups on Wednesday applauded a Philippine court's conviction of a former policeman in the 2002 murder of a journalist, the first successful prosecution to come out of a string of killings targeting reporters in the country. Edgar Damalerio, managing editor of the Mindanao Scribe and DXKP radio commentator in southern Pagadian city, was gunned down in May 2002. The case was transferred to central Cebu city after at least three witnesses were killed. Former police officer Guillermo Wapille was convicted on Tuesday for Damalerio's murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was also ordered to pay the slain reporter's family 135,000 pesos (US$2,500; Ђ2,100) in damages, said Ofelia de los Reyes, clerk of Cebu Regional Trial Court.

"Three and a half years after the murder, the justice system has finally cleared a major hurdle in this case, marked by the murder of three witnesses and total impunity for those who instigated the killing," the media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which has described the Philippines as the world's most dangerous place for reporters, called the conviction "a significant step for press freedom in the Philippines and the bravery of Edgar Damalerio's widow, Gemma, and the lone surviving witness, Edgar Ongue."

Leonido Buhisan, the policeman who first responded to the crime, was killed in 2004. Rudy Garcia, who witnessed the actual shooting, was murdered in 2003. Jeffrey Cervantes, another eyewitness, was killed in 2004, according to the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, or NUJP.

Jose Torres, chairman of the NUJP, also welcomed the court's decision, but said more needs to be done to unmask the masterminds of reporters' killings.

"We can jail all the killers, but until those behind the killings are unmasked and punished for their crimes, press freedom in this country will continue to be threatened," he said. "Let us continue to call on the government to address the more than 70 cases of killings of journalists since 1986."

Last week, unidentified gunmen shot dead newspaper reporter Roberto Ramos near Manila, bringing the number of journalists killed in the Philippines this year to nine. Since 1986, 72 reporters have been killed, the NUJP said, reports the AP. I.L.

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