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Philippines 23 June 2005

Tampering and inactivity in the Marlene Esperat murder investigation

Reporters Without Borders is very worried about the investigation into the murder of journalist and anti-corruption activist Marlene Esperat. Neither of the suspected instigators has been arrested and a relative of one of them, prosecutor Tukod Ronda, has got the justice secretary to give him charge of the inquiry.

The lawyer and the family of the journalist, who was killed by a single bullet to the head at her home in Tacurong, Mindanao Island, are very disturbed by this development.

"This is not the right time to restart the investigation from scratch but rather to step up the search in the hunt for all the instigators. Even more so since the new prosecutor heading the case is known for collusion with the suspects masterminds, Osmena Montaner and Estrella Sabay, two former agriculture department officials, who are in hiding," said the organisation. The Department of Justice should withdraw the file from prosecutor Tukod Ronda whose impartiality is clearly not guaranteed," said the organisation.

Moreover, Reporters Without Borders would like the Supreme Court to consider transferring the case to Cebu to avoid local interference.

The lawyer, Nena A. Santos will on 24 June lodge a legal injunction to prevent the opening of a new preliminary investigation by prosecutor Tukod Ronda from Cotabato (Mindanao Island). On 17 May, prosecutor Nestor Lazaro wound up his investigation by concluding - on the basis of a confession by one of the killers - that Osmena Montaner and Estrella Sabay were implicated in the journalist’s murder.

A. Santos told Reporters Without Borders that the appointment of this new prosecutor was "gross interference" that raised the spectre of an "unknown hand" in the Department of Justice. Tukod Ronda was appointed although he is a relative of Montaner and he personally accompanied a lawyer for the two suspects, on 6 May in Manila, to lodge a written statement at the Department of Justice contesting the conclusions of the preliminary investigation.

According to A. Santos, the two suspects, whom Esperat accused of corruption on several occasions, have been trying everything, including bribing officials, to get the charges and arrest warrants against them lifted.

Justice secretary Raul Gonzalez denied all possibility of corruption within the Department of Justice. Last April, he promised Reporters Without Borders’ representatives that the ministry would fully cooperate with the investigation into the Esperat murder.

The police have not managed to question Montaner and Sabay nearly one month after obtaining arrest warrants against them. One of the team of hit-men, Sergeant Rowie Barua, has told investigators that the two former agriculture department officials in Cotabato ordered the killing. The soldier, who is held with three other suspects, had been a body-guard to Sabay.

Last May, after meeting members of Marlene Esperat’s family, President Gloria Arroyo ordered the capture of the instigators of her murder. She also announced the creation of a 5-million pesos (about 74,000 euros) fund to help the families of murdered journalists.

Esperat’s children, sole witnesses to the murder on 24 March 2005, are currently under a witness protection programme and have resumed their studies under the witness protection program.

In May 2005, Reporters without Borders released a report into a series of killings of journalists in the Philippines in which it said, "The death from a bullet to the head on 24 March 2005 of Marlene Esperat, nicknamed ’Erin Brockovich’ by the Philippines press, has traumatised the journalistic community, many of them women."

read the report




In this country
22 May - Philippines
A journalist on army target list, another shot, possibly by soldier
6 March - Philippines
Second journalist in a week narrowly escapes murder attempt
23 February - Philippines
Radio journalist gunned down on Mindanao island
5 January - Philippines
Radio show host comes under fire near his home
3 December - Philippines
Second Radyo Natin presenter gunned down in less than a month

in the annual report
Philippines - Annual report 2008
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Philippines - Annual report 2006

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