month, police arrested the suspected gunman and several accomplices who, in
turn, accused two Department of Agriculture officials of ordering the murder. By the next year, three men were
convicted of carrying out the murder, a landmark in the fight against impunity in
But Osmeña Montaner and Estrella Sabay, the two agriculture officials accused of masterminding the crime, not only remain
free, they have, astonishingly, returned to their official duties. Arrest
warrants have been issued against the two officials on multiple occasions but,
thus far, the suspects have succeeded in quashing any effort to bring them to
have gone unpunished since 1992. CPJ is waging a
supporters and a coalition of Philippine press groups to see that justice is
fully served. Below are some key dates in the twisting prosecution of the Garcia-Esperat
March 24, 2005—Gunman shoots Garcia-Esperat
at her Tacurong City home in front of her two sons before
escaping on a motorcycle with the help of accomplices.
2005—Police arrest Gerry
Cabayag, Randy Grecia, Estanislao Bismanos and Rowie Barua for
carrying out the murder. In testimony, Barua, a military officer, revealed regional agriculture department officials Osmeña Montaner
and Estrella Sabay ordered him to hire the gunmen, according to CPJ
June 2005—Nena Santos, a private prosecutor
working for the Esperat family, petitions to transfer the case from Tacurong to
the more neutral city of Cebu in the central Philippines.
August, 31, 2005—One day before the case
is to be moved to Cebu, the Tacurong court
dismisses murder charges against the two officials, Montaner and Sabay. (See CPJ
May 15, 2006—CPJ writes to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo urging
the government to acknowledge the problem of impunity in journalist murders.
October 6, 2006—Cebu Regional Trial Court
assailants Cabayag, Grecia, and Bismanos of murder and
gives each a minimum sentence of 30 years without parole (described as
synonymous with a life sentence in the local media). Barua is acquitted. Justice Secretary Raul
Gonzales orders reinstatement of murder charges against Montañer and Sabay.
July 26, 2007—CPJ delegation in Manila
meets with journalists and Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno to
discuss how to combat impunity.
October 7, 2007—The Road to Justice, a CPJ
special report by Sheila Coronel and Elisabeth
Witchel, details the case and ties it to the global scourge
February 4 2008—Cebu
regional court issues arrest warrants against Montañer and Sabay.
March 21, 2008—Cebu’s
appeals court halts proceedings
against Montañer and Sabay,
disputing the regional court’s jurisdiction. (See
CPJ report and CPJ
letter to the Supreme Court Chief Justice).
October, 2008—Murder charges are refiled
against Montaner and Sabay at the regional court in Tacurong. New arrest
warrants are issued. (See CPJ report
February 2009—Freedom Fund for
Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), a coalition of six
media groups and a CPJ partner in the Global Campaign Against
Impunity, requests a change in the location of the trial,
from the Tacurong City Regional Trial Court to Makati
City in the capital of Manila. (See CPJ
March 23, 2009—CPJ launches the 2009
Index, listing countries which fail to prosecute journalist murders, in Manila. CPJ’s Elisabeth Witchel interviews
March 2009—Suspects Montaner and
Sabay file the first of two motions to quash the arrest warrants against them.
The Tacurong court dismisses both, according to CPJ
Alert and local news reports.
August 26, 2009—The Philippines Supreme Court grants FFFJ’s
request to transfer the case from Tacurong City Regional Trial Court to Makati City.
December 3, 2009—An appellate court in Cagayan de Oro City, northern Mindanao, issues
an injunction barring authorities from serving arrest warrants against Montañer
and Sabay. (See
and Sabay return
at the Department of Agriculture in central Mindanao