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REGIONS:

Government urged to give police more resources to investigate journalist Bonifacio Gregorio's murder

(RSF/IFEX) - On 31 July 2003, RSF called on Interior and Local Government Secretary José D. Lina to make more resources available to police investigating the 8 July murder of newspaper reporter and columnist Bonifacio Gregorio, and to do everything possible to identify and punish those who may have been behind the killing and the gunman who carried it out.

The organisation also condemned the pressure and obstruction that is hampering investigations into the murders of Apolinario "Polly" Pobeda in May 2003 and Edgar Damalerio in 2002.

Gregorio, aged 55, was shot three times in the head outside his home in the village of Caramutan (in Tarlac province, 150 kilometres north of Manila) by a gunman who ran away. The reporter died after being taken to Ramos general hospital.

The former chief of his village, Gregorio had worked for the local weekly "Dyaryo Banat" ("Attack Newspaper") since 1997. He wrote articles that were very critical of La Paz Mayor Dioisio Manuel and had recently accused him of illegally transforming a rice paddy into a cemetery that was inaugurated the day he was killed. His widow, Gertrudes, said she had asked her husband to stop investigating stories that angered the local authorities. The mayor has denied any involvement in the killing.

The Tarlac news media association, to which Gregorio belonged, said his murder was a "spine-chilling message" to the press. Journalist Abel Pablo, who was in the middle of a telephone conversation with Gregorio when he was killed, has challenged the local police authorities to shed light on every aspect of the murder.

The provincial police chief has created a special task force to work on the Gregorio murder with the Criminal Investigation Department. Shortly after the shooting, a police officer said it was the work of a contract killer. The task force's head has suspended La Paz Police Chief Rodrigo de Guzman, who was known for his hostility towards Gregorio.

On 22 July, a police official announced that police were on the heels of two gangs of killers, but refused to name any suspects. He also said police were checking out a range of possible motives, including the possibility that the murder was a settling of scores stemming from Gregorio's extra-marital affairs. Two former mistresses are reportedly among those who have been questioned.

In the case of Pobeda, a radio commentator gunned down near Lucena (southeast of Manila) on 17 May, two witnesses told the police on 18 June that they were no longer prepared to testify because of pressure on their families. Three suspects have already been arrested. All are linked to the Talaga family. A member of the family is mayor of Lucena.

In the case of Damalerio, a journalist murdered on 13 May 2002 in Pagadian City (on the island of Mindanao), Edgar Amoro, other witnesses and Damalerio's family have reported receiving further death threats from the leading suspect, Guillermo Wapile, a former police officer. Wapile is still at large after escaping from a police camp. He has reportedly changed his appearance in order to avoid capture.

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