Warrant against suspects in journalist’s slay lifted

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – A judge in General Santos City lifted last 12 February 2009 the warrant of arrest he himself had issued against the alleged killers of radio broadcaster Dennis Cuesta. General Santos is approximately 1,049 kms southeast of Manila.

Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 36 judge Isaac Alvero Moran revoked the 3 February 2009 warrant of arrest issued against Police Inspector Redempto “Boy” Acharon and several other suspects in the killing of Cuesta after the General Santos RTC Executive Judge ordered the case to “be included in the regular raffling of cases…and to be considered as a newly filed case.”

Moran in his 12 February order said that “…the probable cause order and warrant of arrest issued on 3 February must of necessity end up in smoke as the legal basis of its issuance has been virtually stripped. Consequentially, said Order and Warrant are hereby RECALLED, LIFTED and SET-ASIDE to pave way for Hon. Panambulan M. Mimbisa, presiding Judge of RTC-37, to make his own finical and evangelical (sic) findings therein.” Mimbisa has yet to decide if a warrant against Acharon should be issued.

RTC Executive Judge Oscar Noel Jr. ordered on 11 February 2009 that the case be re-raffled “to give peace of mind to the concerned party” acting on the “Very Urgent Motion to Recall Case Raffled to Branch 35 (sic)” filed by Acharon’s lawyer Rogelio Garcia last 10 February.

Gloria Cuesta, wife of the slain broadcaster, told the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility that she was shocked by the lifting of the arrest warrant against Acharon. “It was unfair…. Are they trying to delay justice by recalling the warrant of arrest?” Cuesta said in Filipino.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in Davao said in a statement that “some colleagues…had predicted that this development would happen.”

“That their prediction has been accurate makes us fear the Cuesta murder may end up like the majority of other cases of our slain colleagues,” NUJP added.

Only in two cases since 2001 have there been convictions against the alleged gunmen—in the killing of Pagadian journalist Edgar Damalerio and of Sultan Kudarat journalist Marlene Esperat. No mastermind has been convicted.

An unidentified gunman on a motorcycle shot Cuesta on 4 August 2008 along a national highway near a shopping mall in General Santos City. Cuesta, program director and anchor at the local station of Radio Mindanao Network, was on his way home from an outreach program. Cuesta sustained wounds in the head and near the spinal column after being shot five times with a .45 caliber pistol. Cuesta died five days (9 August 2008) after the attack.

Cuesta was the second RMN broadcaster killed in 2008. Martin Roxas, program director of dyVR-RMN in Roxas City, died on 7 August 2008 after a gunman shot him a few kilometers away from the station.

Thirty-nine journalists/ media practitioners have been killed in the line of duty in the Philippines since 2001, more than half of the total number of work-related killings since 1986.

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