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.


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