Judge upholds arrest warrants for ‘brains’ in Esperat slay

Jolene R. Bulambot
Inquirer Visayas Bureau

CEBU CITY, Philippines — A judge has upheld the arrest warrants he issued against the two alleged masterminds in the murder of Sultan Kudarat journalist Marlene Esperat, maintaining his court has jurisdiction over the case.

In a ruling, Judge Simeon Dumdum of Regional Trial Court (RTC) branch 7 denied the motions filed by agriculture officials Osmeña Montaner and Estrella Sabay questioning the warrants issued on February 4, saying the court does not have jurisdiction over the case.

Dumdum said the filing of the murder case against Montaner and Sabay by the Department of Justice on February 1, 2008 was a continuation of the proceedings of the first case, in which the four gunmen who killed Esperat were convicted.

He said the court continues to have jurisdiction over the murder case, citing a Supreme Court resolution dated November 23, 2005, which transferred the venue of the trial from Tacurong City to Cebu. 

“The Supreme Court has directed the RTC of Cebu City to conduct these proceedings. The Cebu RTC still has jurisdiction over the case. The information was properly filed,” Dumdum noted.

The Cebu City judge said Montaner and Sabay remained included in the Cebu trial even if the Regional Trial Court in Tacurong dismissed the case against the alleged masterminds on Aug. 31, 2005, because the Supreme Court had directed the transfer of the criminal case to Cebu City.

He added that the dismissal of the case against Montaner and Sabay in Tacurong was not final and executory.

Regional state prosecutor Ellena Repong-Avila said there was no legal impediment to the arrests of Sabay and Montaner and that copies of the warrant had been provided to Philippine National Police Director General Avelino Razon Jr.

She said they will be asking the court to issue hold-departure orders against the two, who have been away from Sultan Kudarat since February 4.

Esperat was murdered inside her house, in Purok [sub-village] Ilang-ilang, Barangay [village] New Isabela, Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, while having dinner with her family on March 24, 2005.

Three of the accused in the first case — Estanislao Bismanos, Gerry Cabayag and Randy Fernandez-Grecia — pleaded guilty to the charge while Rowie Barua executed an extra-judicial confession.

Cebu RTC branch 21 Judge Menchavez sentenced all four to life imprisonment in 2006.

Esperat’s murder was traced to her exposes of irregularities in the handling of Department of Agriculture funds intended for marginalized farmers.


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