31 days later, arrest warrants vs alleged masterminds in Esperat slay still unserved

Senior Supt. Robert Kiunisala, South Cotabato police director, said this morning that his office has not yet received any arrest warrant against suspects Osmena Montaner and Estrella Sabay,  finance officer and regional accountant of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in Region 12.

"I have no idea about that. Until now, I haven't received any notice or copy of that warrant of arrest," Kiunisala told MindaNews in telephone interview.

He said the Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Office 12, which is based in this city, could have dispatched a copy of the arrest warrants to them the moment it was received by the regional office.

Lawyer Nena Santos, counsel for the Esperat family, earlier said the two suspects were last seen at the DA regional office on February 2. Santos clarified to MindaNews that the two were reporting to the DA office in Cotabato City, not the regional DA in Koronadal City, until February 2, two days before the arrest warrants were issued in Cebu.

Esperat, a DA chemist who turned whistleblower on corrupt practices in the regional office, was gunned down on March 24, 2005, a Maundy Thursday, while she was having dinner with her two young sons at their residence in Tacurong City.

Esperat wrote "Madame Witness," a column for a local weekly, Midland Review.

During her employment in the DA regional office from 1987 to 2004, she discovered several cases of graft and corrupt practices involving misuse of public funds intended for use of marginalized farmers.

She accused Montaner and Sabay of alleged corrupt practices. The two were identified as as masterminds in the Esperat killing by ex-military intelligence agent Rowie Barua, who helped plan the assassination but later turned state witness.

Through Barua’s testimony, the three other hired killers, Randy Grecia, Gerry Cabayag and Estanislao Bismanos, were convicted by Cebu City RTC Judge Eric Menchavez on October 6, 2006.

On February 4 this year, Cebu City RTC Branch 21 Judge Simeon Dumdum issued the warrants of arrest against the suspects, to the police in CotabatoCity where the suspects reside.

Santos said the arrest warrants were immediately sent by the Cebu court to the PNP regional offices in Region 12 and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

ARMM police director Chief Supt. Joel Goltiao last Friday told MindaNews they had not received copies of the warrant. Goltiao later said the copies reached them only last Monday.

ARMM deputy police chief, Supt. Danilo Bacas told MindaNews this morning that the Regional Investigation and Detective Management Division (RIDMD) received from the Cotabato City police station last Monday a photocopy of the arrest warrant and that the RIDMD has directed the police chief in Malabang, Lanao del Sur and the 1505th Provincial Mobile Group there to serve the warrant. Montaner, he said, has relatives in Malabang and used to have a residence there.

Cotabato City, where the two suspects reside, is the temporary seat of the ARMM but is not a component city and actually belongs to Region 12. (Allen V. Estabillo and Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)