Friday, October 06, 2006

The fight for press freedom continues

Other organizations came out with their statements on the Esperat case today.

Another Victory for Press Freedom -- NUJP

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines welcome the conviction on Friday of three persons charged with the murder of journalist Marlene Garcia-Esperat, the Philippines' Erin Brockovich, who blew the whistle on multi-million peso anomalies in the Department of Agriculture.

"We welcome the decision. It's another victory for press freedom," said NUJP chairman Jose Torres Jr.

Torres also welcomed the decision of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales to immediately reinstate the murder charge against Osmena Montaner and Estrella Sabay, the alleged masterminds of Esperat's murder.

"We appreciate the immediate action of Secretary Gonzales to order the prosecution of the alleged masterminds of the killing," Torres said.

"We hope it would be the start of a serious pursuit for the resolution of other murders of journalists in the country," Torres said.

Judge Eric Menchavez of the Cebu RTC-Branch 21 handed down life sentences against gunman Gerry Cabagay, and co-accused Randy Grecia and Estanislao Bismanos

Torres lauded Mechavez's decision, but noted that the battle for press freedom is still far from over.

A total of 86 journalists have been slain since the ouster of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

Meanwhile, 46 media practitioners have been murdered under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who took over the reins of government in 2001.

International media watchdogs have described the Philippines as among the most the perilous places in the world for media practitioners, second only to war-torn Iraq.

The verdict is only the fourth conviction on cases involving journalist murders. The other convictions to date are related to the deaths of Nesino Paulin Toling, Odilon Mallari and Edgar Damalerio.

SEAPA hails convictions in Esperat case, but echoes call to go after masterminds behind journalist killings

BANGKOK – 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. Barua, a former military intelligence officer, who was also Sabay's bodyguard.

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."

Justice for murdered journalist as three accused found guilty in the Philippines -- IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is heartened by today's conviction of three persons charged with the murder of journalist Marlene Garcia-Esperat, dubbed the local "Erin Brockovich" by the Philippines press.

Esperat, a columnist for Midland Review in the southern island of Mindanao, was reportedly murdered on March 24, 2005 in her own home in the city of Tacurong after uncovering multi-million peso anomalies in the Department of Agriculture.

According to local reports, Cebu RTC Judge Eric Menchavez sentenced gunman Gerry Cabagay, and co-accused "masterminds" Randy Grecia and Estanislao Bismanos to life in jail for the murder of Esperat.

The three accused were also reportedly ordered by the court to pay the heirs of Esperat P75,000 (approximately USD 1500) in civil indemnity, P75,000 in moral damages, and P25,000 (approximately USD 500) for exemplary damages.

"This is a rare win in the battle for justice for the overwhelming numbers of journalists brutally murdered in the Philippines," IFJ President Christopher Warren said.

Since 2001, 46 media practitioners have been killed in the Philippines under the rule of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Yet this verdict is only the fourth conviction in a journalist murder case. The other convictions to date relate to the deaths of Nesino Paulin Toling, Odilon Mallari and Edgar Damalerio.

"We are hopeful that this victory for press freedom will set a solid example for future trials of journalist killers and send a strong message to those who seek to silence the media through brutal murders that they will be brought to justice," Warren said.

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