CPJ welcomes new charges in 2005 murder

New York, October 20, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists is heartened to learn that murder charges were filed today in the 2005 slaying of investigative reporter Marlene Garcia-Esperat in the Philippines.

Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay have been charged as the alleged masterminds behind the murder. Montañer and Sabay were Mindano Department of Agriculture officials who Garcia-Esperat had accused of siphoning off money from fertilizer purchases. Charges against the two men had previously been dismissed in 2005. The Tacurong City Regional Trial Court, in which the charges were brought today, has yet to issue arrest warrants for the men, according to the Center for Media Freedom and responsibility, a local media rights group.

“We commend Philippine prosecutors, who have taken another step forward in finally bringing about justice in the cold-blooded murder of Marlene Garcia-Esperat,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “It is now up to the courts and prosecutors to press for a full resolution on this brave journalist’s murder.”

In March 2005, a gunman walked into Garcia-Esperat’s house in the city of Tacurong in Mindanao, the southernmost main Island of the Philippines. The gunman killed her in front of her family. Garcia-Esperat died instantly from the single bullet wound to her head. The gunman and his accomplice escaped from the scene on a motorcycle.

An anti-graft columnist for newspaper the Midland Review on Mindanao, Garcia-Esperat, 45, had been 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 before the killing.

Estanislao Bismanos, Gerry Cabayag, and Randy Grecia–the gunman, lookout, and co-conspirator–were given life sentences in October 2006 in a court in Cebu in the central Philippines, where the murder investigation had been moved at one point to ensure a fair trial and to protect witnesses.