Suspects in Esperat killing evade arrest

Two regional agriculture officials accused of masterminding the brutal murder of journalist Marlene Esperat have apparently evaded arrest.

Reports have quoted Cotabato City police director, Sr. Supt. Willie Dangane that Department of Agriculture Region 12 finance director Osmeña Montañer and accountant Estrella Sabay could have fled the city after learning they would be served warrants of arrest.

“They are no longer here in the City,” Dangane said.

The two have been tagged as the brains behind the murder of Esperat, columnist of a weekly paper in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, who was gunned down by three men as she was having dinner with her family in March 2005.

Last October 21, Judge Melanio Guerrero of the Regional Trial Court in Tacurong City issued a new warrant for the arrest of Montañer and Sabay after the case was transferred there from Cebu City.

Cebu City RTC judge Simeon Dumdum approved last September 28 the petition for the withdrawal of charges filed to allow the murder case to be heard before the Tacurong City RTC. The transfer came after the Court of Appeals in Cebu issued a preliminary injunction preventing the serving of the arrest warrants issued earlier by the Cebu court on February 4, 2008.

Before she was killed, Esperat had exposed alleged corruption in the agriculture department’s Region 12 office.

The three gunmen Gerry Cabagay, Randy Grecia and Estanislao Bismanos have been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

No mastermind has ever been successfully prosecuted in any of the 96 killings of journalist since 1986. #

IFJ-NUJP Media Safety Office

Court denies petition of alleged masterminds in Esperat killing

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – The Manila Court of Appeals denied on 15 October 2008 the petition for certiorari and prohibition filed by the alleged masterminds to stop the re-investigation of, and the filing of charges on the 2005 killing of journalist Marlene Esperat.

In a 17-page decision penned by Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes, the Manila Court of Appeals Special Eighth Division denied the 19 November 2007 petition by Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay, alleged masterminds in the killing of Esperat, asking the court to enjoin the state prosecutor and the Department of Justice from re-investigating the case and re-filing charges.

“It is legally permissible for public respondents to re-open the preliminary investigation,” the appellate court said. “…(T)he complainants may present new or additional evidence which could alter the result of the earlier finding of no probable cause and accordingly ask for an reinvestigation or a reopening of preliminary investigation.”

The court also ruled that the prior withdrawal of the charges against them at the Tacurong City RTC did not prejudice the re-filing of charges. “Such dismissal merely relieved the petitioners from imprisonment or from being held on bail and not to acquit them of the crime charged.”

It added that “(t)here is no statement in the order of dismissal of RTC Tacurong City (dated 31 August 2005) that the dismissal was with prejudice. A dismissal order is generally deemed to be without prejudice to the filing of another action… The only instance when dismissal of an action is with prejudice is, when the order itself so states.”

The appellate court also denied the Montañer and Sabay motion to “implead the Regional Trial Court of Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat; Cotabato City; or any other court as nominal party.”

Private prosecutor Nena Santos said the Manila Court of Appeals decision would be “a big help” in the prosecution of Montañer and Sabay in Tacurong City. On 20 October 2008, the prosecution refiled murder charges against Montañer and Sabay before the Tacurong City RTC Branch 20 of Judge Melanio S. Guerrero. Guerrero issued on 21 October 2008 warrants of arrest against the two.

“That will be helpful in the case filed in Tacurong City since the Court of Appeals declared that the former dismissal (of the charges against them) does not prejudice refilling the case,” Santos said in Filipino. She added that the Court of Appeals also answered the questions posed by the motion to quash filed by Montañer and Sabay on 21 October 2008 at Tacurong City RTC Branch 20.

Esperat was killed on 24 March 2005 by unknown assailants inside her home and in full view of her children in Tacurong City. She was known for her exposes on alleged corrupt activities in the regional office of the Department of Agriculture where Montañer and Sabay work.

Out of the 37 cases of journalists killed in the line of duty since 2001 in the Philippines, only in two cases have the assassins and their accomplices been convicted. No alleged masterminds in the killing of journalists have been successfully prosecuted. The prosecution of Montañer and Sabay would be the first.

Libel rap on ‘Burlesk King’ case junked

By Jeffrey M. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

DAVAO CITY – After about seven years of legal battle, broadcaster Jun Digamon was cleared of the libel charges filed against him by former local TV celebrity Jeanette Lomanta, the alleged paramour of Speaker Prospero Nograles, over the controversial Burlesk King scandal of 2001.

“God is good…I am vindicated,” Digamon said after Judge Renato Fuentes of the Regional Trial Court Branch 17 here read the verdict at around 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

In the decision, Fuentes said he found no evidence against Digamon in connection with his reports and commentaries over Radyo Bombo here about the alleged scandal, wherein Nograles was supposed to have been ordered to run naked in a hotel by Lomanta’s angry husband when they were allegedly caught there sometime in 2001.

Nograles and Lomanta sued several media men, including Digamon.

One of those charged, Alex Adonis of Bombo Radyo here, was convicted and jailed at the Davao Prisons and Penal Farm (DPPF) in Davao del Norte.

Nograles withdrew the case against Digamon “after much thought and in the spirit of forgiveness and out of my own goodwill,” but Lomanta pursued it.

Digamon, who now works for GMA Super Radyo, said he considered the trashing of the case against him as the “end of my agony…the end of the suffering of my family.”

The acquittal, he said, only proved that justice still works.

Digamon said the charges filed against him served a lesson but it also strengthened his resolve not to be cowed in pursuit of truth.

He said he was saddened by the continued detention of Adonis.

“That’s the painful part,” said Carmelito Francisco, chair of National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in Davao

Harassment of Philippines Journalists Via Text Message Threats Continues

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) calls for heightened protection of journalists Rey Briones and Turing Sante in the Philippines after reports of an anonymous text message warning their lives were in danger.

According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), an IFJ affiliate, Briones, 29, co-anchor of a daily radio commentary program for dwKI-FM in Lucena City and reporter and columnist for local tabloid Southern Tagalog Banner received the text message on October 20.

The message also reportedly mentioned Sante, Briones’ co-host on dwKI-FM.

Briones is known for tackling issues such as corruption, governance and the environment in his radio show and newspaper articles, the NUJP said.

Earlier two Davao City-based journalists, Erin Lumosbog, anchor of Radyo Ronda on the RPN9-dxKT network, and James Pala, of Radyo Rapido, both reported receiving threatening text messages after broadcasting allegations about local council extortion on October 10.

“This apparent pattern of members of the public attacking and threatening individual journalists for unfavourable reporting is abhorrent and must end,” said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.

“The IFJ stands in solidarity with our colleagues in the Philippines in their courageous work, and reminds all journalists and media institutions that at such a dangerous time for media workers in the Philippines, personal safety must be protected zealously.”

The IFJ joins the NUJP in urging journalists who receive similar threats to immediately report the incident to the police, and demanding that police reciprocate by providing full protection for each individual and their families until the perpetrators are found and brought to justice.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide

Court orders arrest of alleged masterminds in killing of journalist

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – A local court in Sultan Kudarat has ordered the arrest of the alleged masterminds in the 2005 killing of a journalist a day after murder charges were filed against them. Sultan Kudarat is approximately 968 kms from Manila.

Judge Melanio S. Guerrero of the Tacurong City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 20 issued on 21 October 2008 warrants of arrest against Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay, the alleged masterminds in the killing of journalist Marlene Esperat. Murder charges were filed against them on 20 October 2008.

However, Montaner and Sabay filed on 21 October 2008 a motion to quash the Information before the Tacurong City RTC Branch 20. Nena Santos, private counsel in the case, said the local court will hear the motion on 27 October 2008.

Esperat was killed on 24 March 2005 inside her home in Sultan Kudarat. She was known for her exposes on the alleged corrupt activities in the regional office of the Department of Agriculture where Montañer and Sabay work as finance officer and regional accountant, respectively.

On 4 February 2008, the Cebu City RTC Branch 7 of Judge Simeon Dumdum had issued warrants of arrest against Montañer and Sabay. But a preliminary injunction issued by the Cebu City Court of Appeals on 14 May 2008 prevented the serving of the warrants of arrest and Judge Dumdum from hearing the case. Montañer and Sabay filed the petition for the issuance of a preliminary injunction before the appellate court on 6 March 2008, arguing that the Cebu City RTC had no jurisdiction over the case filed against them.

The Cebu City Court of Appeals agreed with the Office of the Solicitor General’s opinion that the case against Montañer and Sabay should be filed at Tacurong City where the murder happened.

On 28 September 2008, Judge Dumdum approved the petition for the withdrawal of charges at the Cebu City RTC filed by the prosecutors in preparation for the filing of a murder case against the alleged masterminds before the Tacurong City RTC.

Since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power in 2001, 37 journalists have been killed in the line of duty—almost half the total number of journalists killed in the line of duty since 1986. Out of the 37 cases, only the assassins and their accomplices in two cases—the 2005 killing of Esperat and the 2002 killing of Edgar Damalerio—have been convicted. No mastermind in any of the cases has been successfully prosecuted.

Quezon journalists receive threat

Rey Briones, 29, co-anchor of “Mga Bida ni Ojeda,” a daily radio commentary program of dwKI-FM in Lucena City and reporter and columnist of the local tabloid “Bandilyo ng Timog Katagalugan” (Southern Tagalog Banner) received a threatening message sent from
cellphone number 09174661387around, 7:28 a.m, Monday, October 20.

The message read: “cge galingan mo rei briones malapit ka na bwaaa haha pati yang si kakan turing na yan aabangan ko kayo bwaaaa haha”. (Go ahead, do well Rei Briones.  Your time is near, bwaaa haha.The same goes for that kakan Turing…I’m waiting for both of you…bwaaaa haha.)

Turing Sante is his co-host in the daily commentary program over dwKI-FM.

Briones, known to be a hard-hitting journalist said he was inclined to dismiss the threat, which he believed could be the work of a prankster. He tried to contact the sender but he received no reply.

In his radio and newspaper columns, Briones often tackles various issues on corruption, governance and on the environment among many other topics.

NUJP – Quezon officials advised Briones not to ignore the threat and report the matter to the police.

“In this dangerous time for media workers, every journalist should not take any threats lightly. We should all be extra careful and always observe safety measures,” Danny Estacio, NUJP-Quezon secretary-general said.

Briones said he would heed the advice and report the incident to the local police. #


IFJ-NUJP Media Safety Office

Murder charges filed against alleged masterminds in killing of journalist

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – Murder charges against the alleged masterminds in the 2005 killing of journalist Marlene Esperat have been filed before a local court in Sultan Kudarat. Sultan Kudarat is approx. 968 kms from Manila.

Nena Santos, private counsel for the prosecution, said the information against Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay was filed at around 11:40 a.m. last 20 October at the Tacurong City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 20 of Judge Melanio S. Guerrero. It is docketed as Criminal Case no. 3064.

Santos said there is a big possibility that the court would issue warrants of arrest against Montañer and Sabay by Wednesday, 22 October. “If not, the Department of Justice (state prosecutors) will file a motion for the issuance of a warrant of arrest,” she added.

The Cebu City Court of Appeals issued on 14 May 2008 a writ of preliminary injunction prohibiting the Cebu City RTC from proceeding with the case against Montañer and Sabay. The appellate court also stopped the implementation of the 4 February 2008 warrants of arrest against them.

Esperat was killed by unknown assailants on 24 March 2005 while having dinner with her children in her home in Tacurong City. She had been exposing alleged corrupt practices involving the Department of Agriculture Region 12 office where Montañer and Sabay serve as finance officer and regional accountant, respectively.

Estanislao Bismanos, Gerry Cabayag and Randy Grecia—the gunman, lookout, and co-conspirator—were sentenced to life imprisonment on 6 October 2006 by Cebu City RTC Branch 21 Judge Eric Menchavez. Another suspect, Rowie Barua, became a state witness and was released.

Seventy-five journalists have been killed in the line of duty in the Philippines since 1986. Only in two cases have the assassins and their accomplices been convicted since 2001. No mastermind has been successfully prosecuted.