Media watchdog urges arrest of alleged masterminds in Esperat murder

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/03 October) — The Court of Appeals (CA) Twenty First Division in Cagayan de Oro has junked the petition for certiorari and prohibition filed by the alleged masterminds in the murder of journalist Marlene Esperat in Tacurong City six years ago, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said.

By dismissing the petition, the CA Mindanao station has allowed the serving of the warrants of arrest against Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay for the Esperat murder, the media watchdog said.

Esperat, who was gunned down on March 25, 2005 while having dinner with her children in their house, had written exposes on alleged corruption at the DA regional office in her column in the weekly Midland Review.

Efforts to get the side of the alleged masterminds proved futile on Monday, although sources at the DA regional office here said that the duo continue to work at the agency while their petition for certiorari was being heard.

The CA Twenty First Division handed its decision last August 19, with one of the private prosecutors receiving the decision only last month.

With this development, the CMFR urged the Philippine National Police’s Task Force Usig to arrest and make possible the resumption of criminal proceedings against the two accused before a Regional Trial Court in Makati City.

Supt. Resty Damaso, PNP-12 spokesperson, failed to give an update if the arrest warrant has been served against the alleged masterminds despite repeated calls on Monday.

The Mindanao appellate court denied the alleged masterminds’ petition in a 26-page decision penned by Associate Justice Romulo Borja, who said the petition constitutes forum shopping.

“They are now seeking a favorable judgment on issues they had previously received adverse judgment,” the court said.

This was the third petition for certiorari Montañer and Sabay filed since the reinvestigation of the murder charges against them around September 2007, CMFR said.

It took the appellate court’s Mindanao station almost two years to respond to their latest petition, but its 26-page decision reveals the care it took in arriving at the decision, the group said.

In finding Montañer and Sabay guilty of forum shopping, the appellate court cited the Supreme Court in a 2001 case, “The most important factor in determining forum shopping is the ‘vexation caused the courts and the parties-litigants by a party who asks different courts to rule on the same or related causes or grant the same or substantially the same relief.’”  With the recognition that forum shopping causes “vexation” on the part of the courts and parties-litigants, it is hoped that the judiciary will no longer tolerate such delaying tactics.

For the media community, the decision represents a battle won in the war against the culture of impunity that has encouraged the continuing killing of journalists.  Because this is the first time that the alleged masterminds have been charged before the courts, and are likely to be arrested and tried, it will send one more message to those who cannot abide the work of journalists and who choose to silence them that they will not always get away with murder, CMFR said.

During the trial against the gunman and his accomplices, an accused turned state witness pointed to Montañer and Sabay as the ones who allegedly ordered the killing because of Esperat’s exposés on allegedly anomalous transactions at the Department of Agriculture in Region 12, where they were the finance officer and regional accountant, respectively. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)