GENERAL SANTOS CITY – A murder case was finally filed against the alleged masterminds behind the killing of Marlene Esperat who was gunned down inside her store on a Maundy Thursday in 2005.
Charged with murder before Regional Trial Court Branch 30 Judge Milanio M. Guerrero in Tacurong city were Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay, DA-Region 12 finance officer and regional accountant, respectively.
The two were named by former Philippine Army enlisted man Rowie Barua who confessed to having recruited a team to plot and carry out the assassination reportedly upon orders from Montañner and Sabay.
Baura turned state witness and was acquitted but his three other companions were convicted for the killing.They are triggerman Jerry Cdayag, lookout Randy Grecia, and getaway vehicle driver Estanislao Bismanos.
The assassins were reportedly paid P120,000 for the murder.
Esperat, a hard hitting columnist, used to work at the regional office of the Department of Agriculture in Cotabato City. Before her death, Esperat was keeping tab on the alleged P750 million fertilizer fund that was reportedly used by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during her 2004 presidential election campaign.
Former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocjoc Bolante, now detained in the US and is due for deportation, is believed to be the bag man who supervised the alleged anomalous releases of the said fund.
Lawyer Nena Santos, a friend of Esperat and counsel of the victim's family, said senior state prosecutor Theodore Villanueva and state prosecutor Hazel Valdez filed the information sheet for murder on Monday
Montañer and Sabay were originally included in the murder case but they were dropped from the charge sheet for alleged technicalities. Upon the conviction of the assassins, however, the private counsels of Esperat moved to file the same murder raps against the alleged masterminds.
The celebrated original Esperat murder case was transferred to Cebu City upon the request of the prosecution following threats to the family of the victims.
In October 2006, the alleged assassins were convicted of murdering Esperat.
Earlier this year, the Cebu Court of Appeals ordered Cebu RTC 7 Judge Simeon Dumdum to stop hearing the case for an indefinite period. The appellate court said Judge Dumdum has no jurisdiction over the murder case filed against the two accused since it happened in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat.
This prompted Santos to appeal to state prosecutors to file the case against Montañer and Sabay in Tacurong City.
"We hope that Judge Guerrero will issue a warrant of arrest against the (alleged) masterminds as soon as possible," Santos said upon the filing of the charge sheet against the two DA-12 employees.
The Esperat murder case attracted international condemnation including appeals from international press institution to resolve killings of journalists in the Philippines.
"This is a rare win in the battle for justice for the overwhelming numbers of journalists brutally murdered in the Philippines," International Federation of Journalist President Christopher Warren said of the conviction of the assassins.
But the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also urged authorities to "redouble their efforts in investigating the many unresolved journalist murders in the Philippines."
"While we're pleased that important steps have been taken in prosecuting the killers of our colleague Marlene Garcia-Esperat, we urge authorities to complete their work in this case by trying those who are accused of ordering this terrible crime," CPJ executive director Joel Simon said upon learning of the conviction of Cadayag and his accomplices.