Esperat’s sons graduate

 (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews): DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 March) – Marlene Esperat did not live to see
her two youngest sons graduate from elementary and high school.
Three years ago today, the 45-year old columnist (“Madame Witness”) of

The Midland Review was gunned down while having dinner inside her
house in Tacurong City, in the presence of her sons Kevin Jorge, then 15,
and James Derreck, then 10. Kevin is graduating from high school while
James is graduating from elementary, said Valmi Garcia Mariveles,
Marlene’s sister.

Valmi said the family has opted to observe her death anniversary very
simply today, as everyone is busy for the children’s graduation next
week.

A man walked casually into the dining room of the Esperats from their
adjoining store, JJRJ mini mart at around 7:15 on March 24, 2005,  a
Maundy Thursday, greeted Marlene “Good Evening,” and just as she
looked up, shot her, hitting her right eye. The gunman ran out of the
store to the corner of Block 1, Waling-Waling St. Barangay New Isabela,
some 20 meters away and turned right to where a tricycle was reportedly
waiting.

Ryhnche Arcones,  then 23, Marlene’s second daughter from an earlier
relationship, was tending the store  just beside the dining area when the
gunman shot her mother.

Marlene did not also live to see her first grandchild, the child of her
eldest daughter Janice, then 25. She was scheduled to visit Davao on
Easter Sunday to pay them a visit.

Marlene was a chemist turned whistleblower in the Department of
Agriculture’s regional office.

The gunman and his accomplices had been sentenced to life terms in late
2006 but the alleged masterminds – Osmena Montaner, finance officer of
the Department of Agriculture regional office and Estrella Sabay, regional
accountant – continued to elude arrest.

Warrants for their arrest had been served in their residences in Cotabato
City
afternoon of February 22 but the two suspects had fled.
The arrest warrants were issued on February 4.

Supt. Danilo Bacas, spokesperson of the Philippine National Police in the
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), told MindaNews the
warrant had also been served in the other residence of Montaner in
Malabang, Lanao del Sur on March 7 by the 1505th Provincial Mobile Group
(PMG) but Montaner was not there.

Montaner and Sabay were named masterminds by former military
intelligence agent Rowie Biruar, who helped plan the assassination but
later turned state witness.

Through Barua’s testimony, the three other hired killers, Randy Grecia,
Gerry Cabayag and Estanislao Bismanos, were sentenced to life
imprisonment by Cebu City RTC Judge Eric Menchavez on October 6,
2006. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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Esperat murder 3 years later: triggermen punished but where are the

(Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews) : DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 March) – Three years after the March 24, 2005
murder of  Tacurong City columnist Marlene Esperat, the hired killers are
serving their life terms in prison but  the alleged masterminds have
continued to elude arrest.

Cotabato City police chief Willie Dangane told MindaNews on March 7
that the warrants for the arrest of alleged masterminds Osmena Montaner,
finance officer of the Department of Agriculture regional office and

Estrella Sabay, regional accountant, had been served in their residences
in the city afternoon of February 22 but the two suspects had fled.
The arrest warrants were issued on February 4.

“They were able to enter the houses of the suspects,” Dangane said. “But
they (suspects) were no longer there.”Supt. Danilo Bacas, spokesperson of
the Philippine National Police in the Autonomous Region in Muslim

Mindanao (ARMM), told MindaNews the warrant had also been served in
the other residence of Montaner in Malabang, Lanao del Sur on March 7 by
the 1505th Provincial Mobile Group (PMG) but Montaner was not there.

Montaner and Sabay were named masterminds in the killing of Esperat by
former military intelligence agent Rowie Biruar, who helped plan the
assassination but later turned state witness.

Through Barua’s testimony, the three other hired killers, Randy Grecia,
Gerry Cabayag and Estanislao Bismanos, were sentenced to life
imprisonment by Cebu City RTC Judge Eric Menchavez on October 6,
2006.

Esperat, a DA chemist who turned whistleblower on corrupt practices in
the regional office, was gunned down on March 24, 2005, a Maundy
Thursday, while having dinner with her two young sons at their residence
in Tacurong City.

Esperat wrote “Madame Witness,” a column for a local weekly, Midland
Review.

As chemist employed at the DA regional office from 1987 to 2004, she
discovered several cases of graft and corrupt practices involving misuse
of public funds intended for use of marginalized farmers. She accused
Montaner and Sabay, among others, of alleged corrupt practices.

Judge Simeon Dumdum of the Regional Trial Court Branch 7 in Cebu City,
issued the warrant of arrest against Montaner and Sabay on February 4.

The two suspects had asked the court to quash the charges filed against
them by the state prosecutor on February 1 this year, claiming the RTC in

Cebu has no jurisdiction over the case because the murder happened in
Tacurong City.

But Judge Dumum on February 18 denied the motion to quash, saying his
court has jurisdiction over the case as stated in a Supreme Court
resolution dated November 23, 2005. The high court ordered the transfer
of the hearing from Tacurong to Cebu in response to a petition by the
Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) citing safety concerns and the
need for a more neutral court.

The judge said the case against Montaner and Sabay “is but a continuation
of the proceedings, of which Criminal Case No. 2568 was just the first
part relative to the murder of Marlene Esperat.”

Dumdum also denied the motion filed by Montaner and Sabay seeking to
stop the serving of the arrest warrants against them.

According to the Center for Freedom and Democracy, the case against
Montaner and Sabay “has been twice dismissed.”

Before the case was transferred to Cebu City in late 2005, Tacurong City
RTC Judge Francis Palmones had dismissed the case without hearing,
stating that the complaint has  “no probable cause.” In Cebu, Judge

Menchavez, who sentenced Esperat’s gunmen to life imprisonment,
dismissed the case against the two “because of legal technicalities in the
filing date,” CMFR said.

Esperat’s friend, Nena Santos, also private lawyer for the prosecution,
told MindaNews the Court of Appeals in Cebu will hear Monday, March 24,
the third death anniversary of Esperat, a petition filed by the suspects’
lawyers,  to issue Judge Dumdum a TRO, citing he has no jurisdiction over
the case.

CA junks petition for TRO by ‘brains’ in Esperat slay

The Court of Appeals dismissed a petition for a temporary restraining order filed by the alleged masterminds in the murder of journalist Marlene Esperat.

Lawyer Cesar Jimenea, counsel of Osmeña Montaner and Estrella Sabay had questioned the jurisdiction of Cebu regional trial court Judge Simeon Dumdum Jr. over the case.

Dumdum had issued warrants of arrest against the two, who are regional officials of the Department of Agriculture, after the murder case against them was ordered re-filed following the conviction of Esperat’s killers.

The junking of the petition comes on the third anniversary of Esperat’s murder in Sultan Kudarat.

The crusading journalist was shot dead while dining with her children in her own.

The appeals court likewise rejected the petition of Montaner and Estrella to transfer the trial venue to Cotabato instead of Cebu, where it had been earlier transferred because of concerns that the course of the hearings might be influenced by the accused.#

IFJ-NUJP Media Safety Office

SC transfers cases of slain broadcasters

The Visayan Daily Star: ILOILO CITY – The Supreme Court has ordered the transfer of the trials of the murder of broadcasters Herson Hinolan and Rolando Ureta from Aklan to Cebu City in an en banc resolution dated March 18, as requested by media organizations citing security reasons.

The Supreme Court also directed the Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court in Kalibo, Aklan to transmit the records of Criminal Cases No. 7457 (Ureta) and 8149 (Hinolan) to Cebu City and for the Executive Judge of the Cebu RTC to raffle the cases, and directed the judges assigned, to hear them “with dispatch.”

The media organizations were informed of the resolution in a letter from Ma. Luisa Villarama, SC Clerk of Court dated March 19.

The victims’ widows welcomed the court order.

“We are thankful because we doubt if we could get justice if the trial is held in Kalibo. It is also safer for us to attend hearings outside of Kalibo,” Aphrodite Hinolan said in a text message.

But Joan Ibutnande, legal counsel of Amador Raz and Jessie Ticar, suspects in Ureta’s murder, said they will file an opposition to the court order, saying the request transfer of venue “has no basis at all, and is based on surmises.”

In a telephone interview, she said, “It is an insinuation that the courts in Aklan cannot handle the case”.

The seven media organizations that asked Chief Justice Reynato Puno for the transfer were the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Center for Community Journalism and Development, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Philippine News and Philippine Press Institute.

Two motorcycle-riding gunmen shot Ureta dead on January 3, 2001, along the national highway in Barangay Bagtu, Lezo town, Aklan, around seven kilometers west of Kalibo, while he was on his way to his parents’ house.

The victim was program director of radio station dyKR of Radio Mindanao Network and hosted the nightly program “Agong Nightwatch.” He was investigating the proliferation of illegal gambling and drugs in the province when he was killed.

High Court grants petition for transfer of venue of the trials of the killings of two journalists

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – The Philippine Supreme Court granted on 18 March 2008 a petition by the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) to transfer the venue of the trials of suspects in the killings of two Aklan-based journalists to another branch of the Regional Trial Court (RTC). Aklan is approximately 345 km south of Manila.

The Supreme Court approved the petition for change of venue and ordered the Kalibo RTC clerk of court to send all records on the cases of the suspects in the Rolando Ureta and Herson Hinolan killings to the executive judge of the Cebu City RTC. The Court also asked the Cebu City RTC to immediately raffle off the cases upon receipt of the records.

Ureta was killed on 3 January 2001 by two assailants on a motorcycle in Lezo town, Aklan. Hinolan was shot on 13 November 2004 by an unknown assailant outside a carnival in Kalibo, Aklan and died two days after at a local hospital.

On its letter dated 5 February 2008, the FFFJ, a coalition of six media organizations formed in response to the tide of journalist killings, and the NUJP asked the High Court to transfer the venue of the trials of the suspects in the Ureta and Hinolan killings from the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Kalibo, Aklan to any branch of the Cebu City or Makati City RTC “to avoid a miscarriage of justice and to dispel the impression that a culture of impunity encouraged by government inaction makes the Philippines ‘the most murderous place for journalists. ‘”

The FFFJ members are the Center for Community Journalism and Development, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Philippine Press Institute, and the US-based newspaper Philippine News.

FFFJ said that “(b)ecause of the clout and influence of the accused in the area as shown by their ability to unduly influence the investigation of the case, witnesses have been reluctant to break their silence and testify for fear of retaliation. To date the masterminds of the crime remain free as none of the law enforcement agencies dare to enforce the warrant of arrest against them and/or conduct further investigation to shore up the prosecution’ s evidence.”

The Ureta and Hinolan families said they were grateful for the approval of the petition.

“I’m really happy that the case was transferred…. because it would be hard to achieve justice if [the suspect] is tried here in Kalibo,” Aphrodite Hinolan, wife of Herson Hinolan, said.

“I feel more encouraged (that justice will be achieved) now that the case has been transferred to another venue,” Rolando Ureta’s widow Emely, said.

NUJP lauds Supreme Court decision to issue writ of amparo for Mindoro journalist


Press Release

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines congratulates the Supreme Court for its decision to heed the plea of a community journalist in Mindoro Oriental and grant his petition for a writ of amparo. It was the first ever granted protection order for a journalist.

The High Court, in an en banc meeting on March 11, issued the writ in behalf of Nilo Baculo. It ordered respondents, Calapan City Mayor Paulino Salvador Leachon, the vice mayor, three councilors, five former councilors, and five others, to make a verified return of the writ within five working days.

A hearing will be held on March 18, 2008, 2 p.m at the Court of Appeals to decide on the continuance of the case.

Baculo, a former broadcaster and host of radio show “Isumbong mo kay Ka Nilo” and publisher of Traveler’s News, a local tabloid, has exposed alleged corruption in the city. He has also been assisting three minors who have allegedly been trafficked.

The NUJP Media Safety Office responded to Baculo’s cry for assistance after he learned of the alleged plot to kill him.

Baculo is now in hiding.

The  NUJP earlier said that while it has been informed that Mr. Baculo is a “controversial personality,” the group maintains that “this does not detract from the fact that the threat to [Baculo]’s life stems from his reports of alleged official wrongdoing whose subjects now seek to silence him.”

References:
Rowena Paraan
Jose Torres Jr.

Court issues writ of amparo for Mindoro journalist

Release
March 17, 2008

The Court of Appeals, in an en banc meeting last week, issued a writ of
amparo in behalf of Nilo Baculo, the first journalist ever-granted the
protection order.

The CA has ordered respondents, Calapan City Mayor Paulino Salvador
Leachon, the vice mayor, three councilors, five former councilors, and
five others, to make a verified return of the writ within five working
days.

The court has also directed the presiding justice to immediately raffle
the case. The hearing has been set on March 18 , 2008, at 2 p.m. to
decide on the continuance of the case.

Baculo, a former broadcaster and host of radio show “Isumbong mo kay Ka
Nilo” and publisher of Traveler’s News, a local tabloid, has exposed
alleged corruption in the city. He has also been assisting three minors
who have allegedly been trafficked.

Baculo asked the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines for help
when he learned of the alleged plot to kill him.

Baculo is now in hiding.

The  NUJP earlier said that while it has been informed that Mr. Baculo is
a “controversial personality,” the group maintains that “this does not
detract from the fact that the threat to [Baculo]’s life stems from his
reports of alleged official wrongdoing whose subjects now seek to silence
him.”

Reference:
Jose Torres Jr., NUJP Chaiperson
Rowena Paraan, NUJP Secretary General