Judge denies accused’s motion to quash

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – A local Philippine court denied on 7 April 2009 the motion to dismiss the murder charges against the alleged masterminds in the 2005 killing of Sultan Kudarat journalist Marlene Esperat. Sultan Kudarat is a province approximately 968 kms south of Manila .

Branch 30 Judge Milanio Guerrero of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Tacurong City denied the “Motion to Quash (the charges) with Alternative Prayers for the Suspension of Proceedings and Deferment of the Issuance of Warrant of Arrest” filed by the suspected masterminds in the Esperat murder case, Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay. The motion was submitted by their lawyer Emmanuel Badoy on 21 October 2008, right after the court issued an arrest warrant against them.

Montañer and Sabay are accused of masterminding the killing of Esperat in 2005, after being allegedly angered by her exposés of corruption in the Department of Agriculture (DA). Montañer and Sabay worked in the DA as Region 12 Finance Officer and Regional Accountant, respectively. Esperat had also filed several administrative cases against several DA officials including the two.

Esperat is among the 78 journalists/media practitioners killed in the line of duty in the Philippines since the restoration of democracy in 1986. She was killed in her home in front of her children on March 24, 2005. The gunmen were convicted of murder in 2006, but the alleged masterminds are still at large. No mastermind has been successfully prosecuted in any work-related killing of journalists in the Philippines since 2001.

The alleged masterminds claimed that the case filed before the Tacurong RTC on 20 October 2008 was a “mere revival or re-opening of Criminal Case No. 2568, which was previously dismissed by the (Tacurong City) court in its Order dated August 31, 2005.”

In 2005, then Tacurong RTC Branch 20 judge Francis Palmones dismissed for lack of evidence the murder charges against the two suspect-masterminds, effectively removing them from the list of those accused in Criminal Case No. 2568. Criminal Case No. 2568 pertains to the case against then suspected killers Randy Grecia, Gerry Cabayag and Estanislao Bismanos (which was later transferred to Cebu City following a November 2005 Supreme Court order). On 6 October 2006, Cebu City RTC Judge Eric Menchavez sentenced the three to reclusion perpetua (Under the Philippine Revised Penal Code, reclusion perpetua refers to imprisonment for at least 30 years).

They also argued that since the prior case against Montañer and Sabay had been dismissed, the prosecution no longer had the right to file the same charges against them.

The court however said in its 7 April 2009 decision that the case “is not a revival of Criminal Case No. 2568.” It explained that the dismissal of the criminal case against Montañer and Sabay in 2005 does not prejudice the filing of new charges against them. “New proceedings will be conducted as if the accused were charged with the crime of murder for the first time.”

The court also agreed with the prosecution that “the criminal liability of the accused is not extinguished” by the prior dismissal.

Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) legal counsel Prima Quinsayas told CMFR that this decision removed any hindrance in the arrest of the two suspect-masterminds. “…the case goes on. (The suspected masterminds) can no longer claim there is a motion to quash pending when the warrant of arrest is served (on them).”

FFFJ is a coalition of media organizations formed to address the killing of journalists. It is composed of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines), the Philippine Press Institute, the Center for Community Journalism and Development, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, which serves as its secretariat.

The Esperat family and member-organizations of the FFFJ are waiting for the resolution by the Supreme Court of their request to change the venue of the case from Tacurong City to Makati City, which was filed last February 2009.

Below is the decision on the accused’s motion to quash:

decision of the Tacurong City RTC on the motion to quash

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