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Appeals court prohibits service of warrants against alleged masterminds behind Esperat killing

(CMFR/IFEX) - 11 December 2009 - The media are demanding justice for the victims of the 23 November Maguindanao massacre in which 31 of the 57 individuals killed were journalists. But in the Marlene Esperat case, on 3 December an appellate court in the Philippines granted a motion for issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction filed by the alleged masterminds in the killing of the Sultan Kudarat journalist. Sultan Kudarat is a province located approximately 968 km south of Manila.

A preliminary injunction, according to Rule 58 of the Rules of Court, is "an order granted at any stage of an action prior to the final judgment, requiring a person to refrain from a particular act."

In a resolution by Associate Justice Elihu A. Ybañez, the Twenty-First Division of the Court of Appeals of Cagayan de Oro City stopped the implementation of the 21 October 2008 arrest warrant issued by Tacurong City Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge Milanio Guerrero against alleged masterminds Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay.

The court also "enjoin(ed) respondents from further proceeding with Criminal Case No. 3064 or under the same Information from which petitioners were charged for Murder or from acting on any matter raised relative thereto, until this Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition is finally resolved unless sooner revoked."

The appellate court said in its four-page resolution that the Office of the Solicitor General failed to comment on the earlier Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition filed by the alleged masterminds on 21 May 2009. The alleged masterminds filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition asking the appellate court to declare the denial of their Motion for Reconsideration for the dismissal of the murder case as a grave abuse of discretion on the part of Judge Guerrero.

The alleged masterminds filed, via their counsel Cesar Jimenea Jr., the "Extremely URGENT Motion for the Issuance of the Writ of Preliminary Injunction" on 16 November 2009, underscoring its "extreme urgency" as the alleged masterminds "have not been reporting to work for more than a year now" because of the arrest warrant and "are (now) in danger of being dismissed" from the Region XII office of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

The respondents, including the Solicitor General, were given ten days from the receipt of the resolution to file their appropriate comments.

Esperat was killed on 24 March 2005 in front of her children in their home in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat province. The gunman and his accomplice pled guilty and were sentenced in October 2006. More than two years later, the prosecutors filed murder charges against Montañer and Sabay, who allegedly masterminded the killing in retaliation for Esperat's exposés of corruption in the DA Region XII.

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