New York, May 21, 2008 — The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by delays in the trial of two government officials accused of ordering the 2005 murder of columnist Marlene Garcia-Esperat. The trial has been brought to an indefinite halt because of questions surrounding jurisdiction.
The Cebu Court of Appeals issued an injunction last week that bars the Cebu City Regional Trial Court from proceeding against suspects Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay. The appeals panel said the lower court did not have jurisdiction in the case. Garcia-Esperat, a crusading newspaper columnist known as “Madame Witness,” was killed in her home in Tacurong City on the southern island of Mindanao, but the trial was moved to Cebu, about 350 miles (560 kilometers) south of Manila. The prosecution had sought the venue change to ensure a fair trial.
In 2005, a court in Tacurong City dismissed charges against Montañer and Sabay, two local agriculture officials, before the prosecution had a chance to present its evidence. This year, the prosecution succeeded in getting the charges reinstated and in moving the trial. A similar change in venue was critical to the successful prosecution of the three gunmen in the case.
“The Garcia-Esperat case has attracted global attention. The prosecutors should act quickly to resolve these technical delays,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “It’s not just the suspects, but the Philippine justice system that is on trial. Authorities must ensure the process moves forward in an efficient and transparent manner.”
In October 2006, three men—Randy Grecia, Gerry Cabayag, and Estanislao Bismanos—were sentenced to 30 to 40 years in prison apiece after pleading guilty to charges that they had been hired to assassinate Garcia-Esperat in retaliation for her stories about corruption in Mindanao’s Department of Agriculture.
CPJ detailed the Garcia-Esperat case in a 2007 special report, “The Road to Justice.” CPJ research shows that the Philippines is among the worst nations in the world in solving journalist killings. At least 24 journalist murders have gone unsolved in the past decade, CPJ found. CPJ has undertaken a Global Campaign Against Impunity to seek justice in unsolved journalist killings in the Philippines and worldwide.