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CMFR welcomes venue change in journalist's murder trial

(CMFR/IFEX) - The Philippine Supreme Court has granted the petition for the transfer of the trial venue of the case against the alleged killers of broadcaster Dennis Cuesta from General Santos City to Makati City on 13 July 2009. The Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) received the decision on 28 August 2009.

FFFJ filed the petition in February 2009 on the argument that the influence of the accused in the province of General Santos City would deny the prosecution a fair trial. One of the accused, police inspector Redempto "Boy" Acharon, is a cousin of the mayor of General Santos City and was the head of the city government's civil security unit.

General Santos City is a province approximately 1,049 kms south of Manila.

The First Division of the Supreme Court directed General Santos City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 37 judge Panambulan Mimbisa to "immediately" transmit the records of Criminal Case No. 20846 to the Executive Judge of the RTC in Makati City.

The Court also directed the executive judge to "immediately cause the raffle" of the case.

Gloria Cuesta, widow of the murdered journalist, told the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) that the transfer of the case to Makati City is a "big help." "Neither party can influence the case," Gloria Cuesta said.

FFFJ is a group of six media organizations created to address the killing of journalists in the Philippines and to assist besieged journalists. CMFR serves as the FFFJ Secretariat.

But, as other media organizations have also pointed out, Gloria Cuesta said the arrest of Acharon and his accomplices should be prioritized. News that Acharon has been seen around his farm in General Santos City reached Gloria and Dennis Cuesta's colleagues. A reward of P90,000 (approx. US$ 1,840) has been allocated for any information that could lead to the arrest of Acharon.

A second warrant of arrest was issued against Acharon on 7 April 2009, almost two months after the first warrant was withdrawn due to the re-raffling of the case. The case was transferred from Branch 36 to Branch 37 of the RTC in General Santos City.

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