CPJ asks for action on warrants issued for Garcia-Esperat murder

February 8, 2008

Philippine National Police Director General Avelino Razon Jr.
Philippine National Police
Camp Crame
Quezon City
Metro Manila
Philippines 1111 

Via facsimile: +63-02-7255115

Dear General Razon:

The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the arrest warrants issued for two suspects in the 2005 murder of journalist Marlene Garcia-Esperat. This is a significant step forward for the Philippines, where no mastermind has been convicted in the killing of a journalist since CPJ began documenting journalist deaths in 1992.

We now ask that you ensure the men, two officials accused of ordering Garcia-Esperat’s death, are apprehended quickly.

The warrants were issued by the regional court in Cebu on February 4, according to the Esperat family’s private attorney, Nena Santos. The men, Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay, have not been seen at the Mindanao Department of Agriculture where they work since the day the order was issued, according to Santos.

Garcia-Esperat was shot dead by a lone gunman in her Tacurong home in the presence of her two children on March 24, 2005. Montañer and Sabay were implicated in one of many corruption scandals that Garcia-Esperat uncovered while working as a chemist in the Department of Agriculture. She had received several death threats for her role in legal actions against corrupt officials, and for starting a radio show and an anti-graft column with a local paperto report her findings. She became a full-time journalist in 2004.

Montañer and Sabay were first accused in 2005 of plotting the killing by Randy Barua, a former security employee of Sabay’s, according to news reports. Barua surrendered to police two weeks after the murder, and confessed to coordinating the assassination on the two officials’ behalf. His evidence helped convict the gunman and two others in October 2006.

Yet taking the officials to trial has been a struggle. Murder charges against Montañer and Sabay were dismissed in 2005 by a judge in Tacurong city. When the case was transferred to a more neutral court in Cebu province’s synonymous capital, the judge cited lack of jurisdiction as a reason not to indict the pair in 2006.  

The re-filing of the case represents a substantial achievement on the part of Garcia-Esperat’s family, their personal attorney, and the local and international journalists who have continued to advocate on behalf of their slain colleague.

The successful prosecution of the triggerman and his accomplices represents only partial justice in this murder.

Your prompt action would help confront the culture of impunity that now protects the killers of Philippine journalists. We urge you in the strongest terms to ensure the immediate arrest of these two men. 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director
The Committee to Protect Journalists