SEAPA on Conviction of Esperat Killers

Below is the Southeast Asian Press Alliance’s complete statement on the recent conviction of the killers of journalist Marlene Esperat:

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance today welcomed the conviction of journalist Marlene Esperat’s murderers, even as it joined Filipino journalists in reminding that the masterminds behind this heinous crime have yet to be brought to justice.

“This is an important victory that, if followed through and allowed to create momentum, can hopefully stem the tide of journalist killings in the Philippines,” SEAPA Executive Director Roby Alampay wrote from Bangkok where SEAPA is based. “There is an environment of impunity that is encouraging attacks on journalists and human rights workers in the Philippines, and without positive developments such as what we now have in the Esperat case, that climate can only worsen.”

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, a member of SEAPA and one of the founders of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, says there have been at least 60 journalist killings in the Philippines since 1986, the bulk of which took place under the incumbency of current Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

SEAPA congratulated the Filipino journalists and media groups that closed ranks behind the Esperat case and that are struggling to end the rash of violence directed against their sector. At the same time, the Bangkok-based alliance praised the Cebu judicial system which, it said, “in recent months has demonstrated independence and courage, and provided encouraging space” to prosecute killers of journalists. SEAPA noted a report from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility which acknowledges how the Esperat judgment “was the third straight recorded journalist killing conviction in Cebu City. Earlier, Guillermo Wapile, the gunman of Pagadian journalist Edgar Damalerio, was convicted on 29 November 2005; while, Cebu photojournalist Allan Dizon’s killer, Edgar Belandres, was convicted last 19 January.”

The Esperat case, in particular, was transferred to Cebu City precisely on the argument that the city provides a safer and more neutral environment for hearing witnesses and receiving evidence than Esperat’s hometown of Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat, ever could.

In the presence of her three young children, Esperat was murdered in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat, on March 24, 2005. A government agricultural chemist-turned-journalist, Esperat was believed assassinated in reprisal for her exposés on corruption in her department. The suspected masterminds behind her murder are Department of Agriculture Region XII finance officer Osmeña Montañer and accountant Estrella Sabay. The case against the two had been dismissed by the local courts in Tacurong. But with the successful prosecution of the gunmen in Cebu, a motion has been filed in the city to reinstate the murder charges against Montañer and Sabay.

“So the case is encouraging and provides an important victory, but it is not closed,” SEAPA stressed in a statement. “Until masterminds behind the killings of journalists are brought to justice, the climate of impunity will continue to threaten the Philippine media.”

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