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New arrest warrant out for suspects in journalist's murder

(CMFR/IFEX) - A Philippine local court issued a new arrest warrant for the suspects, one of them a police officer, in the 2008 killing of a radio broadcaster in General Santos City. General Santos City is a province approximately 1, 049 km southeast of Manila.

On 7 April 2009, Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 37 judge Panambulan Mimbisa issued a warrant against accused Police Inspector Redempto "Boy" Acharon, alias "Gerry", and several "John Does" in the killing of radio broadcaster Dennis Cuesta. No bail was recommended.

The court also ordered the arresting officers to report within ten days whether the suspects have been arrested. Over a dozen warrants of arrest have not been served on suspects in the killings of journalists in the Philippines.

The new arrest order came two months after the first arrest warrant against the accused was lifted. Branch 36 judge Isaac Alvero Moran recalled the first warrant of arrest on 12 February, after the case (Criminal Case no. 20846) was transferred to another branch (37) of the same court. The transfer was triggered by the accused's "Very Urgent Motion to Recall Case Raffled to Branch 35 (sic)".

To remove doubts on the regularity of the raffling, the RTC Executive Judge had ordered RTC Branch 36 to send the case back to the Office of the Clerk of Court so that it will "be included in the regular raffling of cases on . . . February 12" and "be considered as a newly filed case" on 11 February.

Cuesta died in the hospital on 9 August 2008, five days after a gunman on a motorcycle shot him along a national highway near a shopping mall in General Santos City. A program director and anchor at the local station of Radio Mindanao Network (RMN), Cuesta was on his way home from an RMN-sponsored outreach program.

Cuesta's widow, Gloria, told the CMFR on 20 April 2009 that she was glad that the court had issued a warrant but said she is dismayed that Acharon is still at large and freely roaming General Santos City. She said some local journalists even saw Acharon visiting a local police station recently. "The police told them (the journalists) that they could not arrest Acharon because they had not received a copy of the arrest warrant."

According to a Philippine National Police Task Force Usig (Prosecute) report, 27 identified suspects in 26 cases of work-related killings of journalists are at large (22 others remain unidentified). These 27 identified suspects include Acharon and the alleged masterminds in the celebrated Marlene Esperat case. Out of these identified suspects, 21 have standing warrants of arrest.

Esperat was killed on 24 March 2005 inside her home in Tacurong City in the southern province of Sultan Kudarat. Although her killers have been convicted, the alleged masterminds have yet to be arrested despite a standing warrant. Sultan Kudarat is approximately 968 km from Manila.

As in the Esperat case, the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) filed on 12 February a request to transfer the trial to another court in Makati City to avoid the political clout of the accused.

FFFJ is a coalition of media organizations formed to address the killings of journalists. It is composed of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines), the Philippine Press Institute, the Center for Community Journalism and Development, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the CMFR, which serves as its secretariat.

Updates the Cuesta case:

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