Transfer of venue of case against alleged masterminds in Esperat murder granted

CMFR/PHILIPPINES—The venue of the case against the alleged masterminds in the killing of Sultan Kudarat-based journalist Marlene Esperat has been transferred to Makati City with the Philippine Supreme Court’s grant of a petition for the change.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) received a copy of the Supreme Court order (A.M. No. 09-8-313-RTC) on 14 September 2009 approving the change of venue as requested by the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ). CMFR serves as the FFFJ secretariat.

In its 26 August 2009 resolution, the Supreme Court ordered Branch 20 of the Tacurong City Regional Trial Court (RTC) to transmit the records of the case against alleged masterminds Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay to Makati City .

It also directed and authorized the “judge to whom the case is assigned to hear and decide the subject case with utmost dispatch.”

The FFFJ, a coalition of six media organizations formed to address the continuing killings of and attacks against journalists in the Philippines, filed the petition in February 2009, arguing  that the transfer of the case venue would assure “potential witnesses, court personnel and complainants that their security will not be compromised” as would be the case  “if trial is held in southern Mindanao.”

The FFFJ argued that “even if the conviction of the triggermen was achieved in record time, the existence of a double standard of justice in our country’s judicial system cannot be denied if the (alleged) masterminds remain unpunished.” No mastermind has been successfully convicted in the Philippines since 2001.

Prima Jesusa Quinsayas, private prosecutor representing the Esperat family, welcomed the transfer of the case to the Makati RTC. “The transfer is good news,” said Quinsayas who also serves as FFFJ legal counsel.

Esperat, a columnist for The Midland Review, was shot dead by a gunman in her home in Sultan Kudarat on 24 March 2005. The gunman and his accomplices were allegedly ordered by Montañer and Sabay to kill Esperat for her reports on their supposed participation in illegal acts at the local office of the Department of Agriculture in Region XII where they served as finance officer and regional accountant, respectively.

On 20 October 2008, approximately two years after the conviction of the gunman and his accomplices, the prosecutors re-filed murder charges against Montañer and Sabay before the Tacurong City RTC. The case was earlier filed at the Cebu City RTC but the Court of Appeals in Cebu City granted the alleged masterminds’ petition prohibiting the RTC judge from hearing the case. (See “Murder charges filed against alleged masterminds in killing of journalist”)

The prosecution is still awaiting developments on the petition for certiorari and prohibition filed by the lawyers of Montañer and Sabay before the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro City.

Last 27 August, CMFR received a copy of the resolution of the Cagayan de Oro City Court of Appeals ordering the alleged masterminds to “rectify… its failure to state the place of issue of petitioners’ counsel’s IBP Official Receipt; and 2. failure to indicate in the petition the actual addresses of the petitioners and that of private respondent in violation with (sic) Section 3 (1st par.), Rule 46 of the Revised Rules of Court.”

The appellate court said failure to comply would mean the dismissal of the alleged masterminds’ petition.

Despite the transfer of the trial venue, the arraignment of Montañer and Sabay remains doubtful as the Philippine National Police has yet to find and arrest them.

(http://www.cmfr- phil.org/ 2009/09/16/ transfer- of-venue- of-case-against- alleged-mastermi nds-in-esperat- murder-granted/)

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