Journalist’s killers sentenced to life term

Valmie Mariveles, elder sister of the victim, questioned why not all the four were sentenced “for carrying out the killing”.

“Barua should have been also convicted,” said Mariveles, who attended the promulgation with the four children of the slain Esperat.

Rowie Barua, a suspect, is a former military intelligence officer who turned state witness.

Cebu Regional Trial Court Branch 21 Judge Eric Menchavez before noontime convicted to reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment) Jerry Cabayag, Randy Grecia and former Army sergeant Estanislao Bismanos.

The four, including Barua, carried out the murder plan against Ms. Esperat.

Although the family appeared dissatisfied with the verdict, Mariveles sounded upbeat saying that the case against the masterminds could be pursued using Barua as witness.

“If that is quid pro quo, so be it, so long as it would lead to the revival of the cases against the alleged masterminds, Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay,” she added. Montañer and Sabay are Department of Agriculture Region 12 Finance Officer and Regional Accountant, respectively. The case against the duo, who earlier vehemently denied involvement in the killing, has been dismissed for “insufficient evidence.”

Esperat was gunned down March 24 last year, a Maundy Thursday, in front of her two young children while they were eating dinner inside their home.

Esperat was a columnist for the weekly newspaper The Midland Review, published in Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat, about 85 kilometers northwest from here. Before that, she was a chemist at the Department of Agriculture but turned whistleblower on the corrupt practices there.

At least 60 journalists have been killed in the line of duty since 1986, a study by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) show. Twenty-eight journalists have been killed since President Gloria Arroyo took over the Presidency following the ouster of President Joseph Estrada in 2001.

Esperat was the 18th journalist killed under the Arroyo administration.

The conviction of her killers was expected by various press freedom groups in the country, including Esperat’s private lawyer, Nena Santos, months before the promulgation.

In a primer sent a day before the promulgation, the CMFR said: “Arguably one of the key factors for the case’s relative success or considerable progress has been the consistent coverage by both the national and local media.”

“If we continue to make our presence felt inside the courtroom, it will send a strong message to the court and the accused that the whole country, through the media entities, is closely watching the case. It would also show that the media are hell-bent on ensuring that justice is done to the courageous heroine-journalist,” the primer added.

The CMFR warned however, that the “real quest for justice in the Esperat case does not end with the sentencing of the four killers, but with the resolution, through the conviction of the real masterminds”.

Rachel Khan, CMFR coordinator to the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, said they were bent on pursuing the case against Montañer and Sabay, who continue to do their work at the regional Agriculture office. (MindaNews)