One year after the murder of investigative journalist Marlene Esperat in Tacurong, on the southern island of Mindanao, Reporters Without Borders today deplored the fact that, although the suspected perpetrators have been arrested, the instigators are still at large. Esperat wrote about corruption and embezzlement for the weekly Midland Review, and she had accused the local department of agriculture of irregular fertilizer purchases shortly before she was gunned down in front of her daughter and two sons on 24 March 2005.
“The arrest of the suspected contract killers, including the alleged gunman, Jerry Cabayag, just a few weeks after Esperat’s murder raised hopes that it would be solved quickly,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But the case then ground to a halt, although it was transferred to a court in Cebu for the sake of the safety of the witnesses.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We urge the authorities to do everything possible to arrest those who were behind this murder, and thereby honour the memory of an investigative journalist who said she was ready to die for the cause. We also call on the senate to conduct a thorough investigation into the fertilizer scandal she exposed, so that her fight against corruption will not have been in vain.”
Esperat was dining at home with her children on the evening of 24 March 2005 when a gunman walked into the living room and shot her once, above the right eye, killing her instantly. She had been receiving police protection ever since a grenade attack on her home in 2003 but that evening she had exceptionally told her bodyguard he could stay at home and spend Easter with his family.
One of the suspects, Randi Grecia, surrendered to the police on 8 April 2005. Three days later, the police arrested three other suspects, included the alleged shooter, Cabayag. All four have reportedly confessed to being paid 120,000 pesos (about 1,900 euros) to kill Esperat.
Last November, the supreme court granted a request from the Esperat family and the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists for the case to be transferred from Tacurong, where Esperat lived and where the murder took place, to a court in the city of Cebu.
In Tacurong, the judicial investigation had been exposed to pressure from Osmena Montaner, an agriculture department official who is suspected of being one of the instigators of the murder. In August, the court in Tacurong had refused to let charges be brought against Montaner and another agriculture department official, Estrella Sabay, on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
Prior to her murder, Esperat had presented the results of her investigation into the alleged fertilizer scandal to the ombudsman, who in the Philippines has the power to prosecute corruption cases. Esperat knew she was in great danger and wrote in a letter to President Gloria Arroyo on 14 February 2005: “I am ready to die for this cause but you can never stop the will of the Lord.”