GENERAL SANTOS CITY?The alleged masterminds in the 2005 murder of journalist Marlene Esperat are back at work at the Department of Agriculture (DA) in Central Mindanao after the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro City issued a preliminary injunction on their arrest.
Osmeña Montañer, DA region XII finance officer, and Estrella Sabay, his chief accountant, had been in hiding since October 2008 when the Tacurong City trial judge, Milanio Guerrero, issued warrants for their arrest. But the implementation of the arrest order was stayed by the 21st Division of the Appeals Court on Dec. 3.
Associate Justice Elihu A. Ybañez noted in her four-page resolution granting the suspects? motion, noted that the Office of the Solicitor General had failed to submit its comment on the warrant issue within the required 10 days.
Montañer and Sabay had filed on Nov. 16 an ?Extremely Urgent Motion for the Issuance of the Writ of Preliminary Injunction,? citing that they ?have not been reporting to work for more than a year now...and are in danger of being dismissed? from their DA jobs.
The Inquirer found Montañer at his office on Wednesday but he refused to comment on the case.
?I?m sorry I was told by our lawyer not to say anything about the case because it is still pending with the court. You may talk to our lawyer Vic Badoy,? Montañer said.
Badoy, however, was reportedly out of the country.
Montañer reiterated that he was not behind Esperat?s murder, adding that the journalist was his ?kumare.?
?We are just fall guys,? he said, but did not elaborate.
A key witness in the case, former Army Sgt. Rowie Barua, had tagged Montañer and Sabay as the ones who contracted him to arrange the murder of Esperat, the whistle-blower in the multi-billion fertilizer fund scam.
On March 24, 2005, Maundy Thursday, gunmen barged into Esperat?s home in Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat and shot her dead while she was having dinner with her daughters.
Formerly the ombudsman of the DA in central Mindanao, Esperat had filed cases of graft against then National Food Authority Administrator and now Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and other ranking agriculture officials in connection with a P432-million fertilizer deal in 2003. The case was investigated by the Senate and has implicated former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn ?Joc-Joc? Bolante.
Esperat had also filed graft charges against other ranking DA officials for the alleged smuggling of P23 million worth of chicken quarters from the United States in 2004.
Esperat later left government service and became a crusading journalist of Central Mindanao?s Midland Review.
Barua?s confession led to the 2006 conviction by a Cebu court of ex-Sgt. Estanislao Bismanos, Gerry Cabayag, the confessed triggerman, and Randy Grecia, who acted as lookout.
Two years later, the arrest orders were issued for Montañer and Sabay.
Lawyer Nena Santos, a private prosecutor in the case, told the Inquirer she was stunned by the issuance of a preliminary injunction by the appeals court in Cagayan de Oro City.
As far as Santos knew, they were still waiting for the comment of the Solicitor General?s Office on the matter of the arrest warrants issued by the Tacurong City Court.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court late last year ordered the transfer of the trial venue of the Esperat murder case from Tacurong to Makati City.