CMFR/Philippines— Two government officials suspected to be the brains behind the killing of a journalist in 2004 have eluded arrest despite three week-old warrants for their arrest.
Cebu City Regional Trial Court Branch 7 Judge Simeon Dumdum issued arrest warrants to the Cotabato City police on 4 February 2008 for the arrest of Estrella Sabay and Osmeña Montaner, Department of Agriculture Region 12 office Finance Officer and Regional Accountant respectively.
Sabay and Montaner are suspected to have masterminded the killing of Marlene Esperat. Montaner and Sabay reside in Cotabato. Cebu, where the three killers of Esperat were tried and convicted, is a province approximately 562 km south of Manila while Cotabato is a province about 950 km south of Manila.
Esperat, who wrote exposés accusing Montaner and Sabay of corruption, was killed on 24 March 2005 in full view of her children while the family was having dinner in its Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat residence.
Police Chief Superintended Joel Goltiao of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindano (ARMM) said that policemen tried to serve the arrest warrants in the suspects’ residences in Cotabato, but failed because they were no longer there. Cotabato is the regional capital of ARMM, a region composed of the Philippines’ predominantly Muslim provinces.
Goltiao also said that relatives of Montaner and Sabay told arresting officers that they did not know where the two are.
“Montaner and Sabay’s relatives have no idea if they are abroad or are still in the country. We cannot find them in our jurisdiction,” Goltiao told the national newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Superintendent Norberto Batislaong, Region 12 Task Force Usig secretariat, meanwhile said that the police are already engaged in an “aggressive manhunt” for the two suspects and that finding them is number one in their “priority list.”
Lawyer Nena Santos, private prosecutor for the case, said that she had expected the police to have difficulties in locating the suspects.
“We knew that the suspects would be hard to arrest, so we hope the police will make a more earnest effort in apprehending them,” Santos said.
The suspects have filed a motion to the Court of Appeals on 4 February 2008 asking for a temporary restraining order and a writ of injunction to restrain Dumdum from proceeding with the case.
On 18 February 2008 Cebu RTC Branch 7 Judge Simeon Dumdum Jr. denied a motion filed by the defendants which sought to halt the serving of arrest warrants on them. Dumdum in the same decision also denied a motion by Sabay and Montaner which sought to quash the charges filed by the state prosecutor against them.
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