October 20, 2008 · Posted in: Journalist Killings
FINALLY, murder charges have been filed against the alleged masterminds in the 2005 killing of whistleblower-turned-journalist Marlene Esperat.
Charged before the Tacurong City Regional Trial Court in Sultan Kudarat close to noon today were Department of Agriculture Region XII finance officer Osmeña Montañer and accountant Estrella Sabay.
The case against Montañer and Sabay, docketed as Criminal Case No. 3064, was filed at the Tacurong RTC Branch 20 of Judge Melanio S. Guerrero.
Montañer and Sabay were tagged as the masterminds in Esperat’s murder by one of the accused who turned state witness, Rowie Barua.
In his July 4, 2005 testimony before Judge Eric Menchavez of the Cebu City RTC Branch 21, Barua, an ex-military intelligence officer who admitted his participation as coordinator, narrated, in detail, how he was asked by Montañer and Sabay to plan and undertake the killing of Esperat — a period of more than two months from the planning stages in early 2005, to the point of hiring ex-Sgt. Estanislao Bismanos, Gerry Cabayag and Randy Grecia to “silence” the journalist, up to the time of payment for the hatchet job.
On October 6, 2006, Judge Menchavez handed down the guilty verdict on Bismanos, Cabayag, the confessed triggerman, and Grecia for the gruesome murder qualified by treachery. The three were meted the penalty of reclusion perpetua. Barua was acquitted, while the verdict on the two alleged masterminds were deferred pending the Court of Appeals ruling on their certiorari petition.
On May 14, 2008, the Cebu City Court of Appeals issued 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 February 4, 2008 warrants of arrest against them.
With the filing of the case in Tacurong, Nena Santos, private counsel for the prosecution, told the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) there is a big possibility that the court would issue warrants of arrest against the two by Wednesday, October 22. “If not, the Department of Justice (state prosecutors) will file a motion for the issuance of a warrant of arrest,” Santos said.
Esperat, a columnist for the Sultan Kudarat paper The Midland Review, was gunned down on March 24, 2005 while having dinner with her children in her home in Tacurong City. She wrote exposés and filed cases with the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the corruption inside the DA regional office, particularly the multi-million peso fertilizer funds scam, which not only allegedly involves the two suspected slay masterminds but also several high-ranking national officials.
By CMFR’s tally, 75 journalists have been killed in the line of duty in the Philippines since 1986. Apart from the Esperat case, only one other case has seen the successful conviction of journalists’ assassins and their accomplices since 2001 — the murder of Edgar Damalerio which led to the conviction of former police officer Guillermo Wapile in November 2005 who was meted the penalty of life imprisonment.
No mastermind, however, has yet to be successfully prosecuted.