New York, March 28, 2005—In a brazen attack last Thursday, a gunman walked into columnist Marlene Garcia-Esperat’s house in the city of Tacurong, and shot her in front of her family. Garcia-Esperat died instantly from the single bullet wound to her head, police told reporters. The gunman and his accomplice escaped from the scene on a motorcycle.
An anti-graft columnist for the newspaper the Midland Review in the southern island of Mindanao, Garcia-Esperat, 45, was under police protection as result of recent death threats. According to local news reports, she let her two guards leave early for the Easter holidays on Thursday morning.
The Philippine National Police Chief, General Arturo Lomibao, announced today that the department has several new leads in the case and released sketches of two suspects. Lomibao also told reporters “the motive is work-related as media practitioner.”
In a radio interview, husband George Esperat said that his wife had “made many enemies because of her exposés” and that she had received additional death threats via text messages. He also suggested Garcia-Esperat’s murder was connected to a corruption story that she wrote, accusing a police officer of involvement in illegal logging activity. Tacurong Police Chief Raul Supiter said that no motive had been ruled out, according to the Philippines-based Mindanews news service.
Local media groups, including the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, condemned Esperat’s death and called on authorities to take action against the killers.
A chemist by training, Esperat began her work exposing corruption in the early 1990’s. During her tenure as ombudsman for the Department of Agriculture, she filed legal actions against several officials accusing them of graft, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She also spent two years in the witness protection program due to her ombudsman discoveries. Esperat quit her government job last year to become a journalist, due to frustration with the government’s tepid reaction to rampant corruption, she told the Inquirer in an earlier interview.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is now investigating to determine if Garcia-Esperat’s death was linked to her work as reporter. In addition, CPJ is investigating another murder from 2005; Arnulfo Villanueva, a columnist for the community paper Asian Star Express Balita, was found shot and killed by the side of the road on February 28 in Naic, a town south of the capital Manila. Eight Philippine journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2004, according to CPJ research—making the Philippines second only to Iraqi in terms of press-related deaths.