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Murder charges filed against alleged masterminds in killing of journalist

(CMFR/IFEX) - 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 km from Manila.

Nena Santos, private counsel for the prosecution, said the information against Osmena Montaner and Estrella Sabay was filed at around 11:40 a.m. on 20 October 2008 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 Montaner 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 Montaner 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 Montaner 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.

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