MANILA, Philippines—The Court of Appeals nullified the body created to investigate the involvement of former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes and brother Coron Mayor Mario Reyes in the death of broadcaster Gerry Ortega and set aside its ruling finding probable cause to charge the two with murder.
Acting on the petition filed by Mario Reyes, the court said Justice Secretary Leila De Lima committed grave abuse of discretion when she created the second panel of investigators through Department Order 710 despite the existence of a first panel that recommended the dismissal of murder case against the Reyes brothers.
This was contained in a 36-page decision by the appeals court special 5th division through Associate Justice Leoncia Real-Dimagiba,
On June 8, 2011, the first panel of prosecutors dismissed for insufficiency of evidence the murder complaint against the Reyes brothers. Patria Gloria Inocencio Ortega, wife of Gerry Ortega sought a re-investigation of the case which was denied by the panel prompting her to file a petition for review before the Secretary of Justice.
On September 2011, De Lima issued DO 710 creating a new set of panel of prosecutors to re-investigate the case against the Reyes brothers. The panel ordered the brothers to submit counter-affidavits on the murder complaint against them. On March 20, 2012, the panel eventually filed the case before the court. The Palawan Regional Trial Court then issued a warrant for their arrest.
The Reyes brothers filed separate petitions with the Court of Appeals assailing the creation of the second DOJ body and issuing a resolution charging them with murder.
In its ruling, the appeals court said De Lima created the second body without modifying the findings of the first panel which is in violation of the Rules of Court.
The appeals court said they recognize the power of the Justice Secretary to reinvestigate a case if it deems necessary but the reinvestigation shall be conducted by the original investigator designated to handle the case “unless for compelling reason, another prosecutor is designated to conduct the same.” In this case, however, the appeals court said they could not find any compelling reason to create a second body.
The appeals court said the second body modified the findings of the first panel, a power vested solely on the Secretary of Justice.
“It behoves upon the Secretary of Justice to adhere to the Rules of Procedure the DoJ promulgated for orderly and effective administration of justice otherwise the vast power of the Secretary of Justice would be susceptible of abuse. Scary! With all its resources it behoves upon the State to balance the scales in what would otherwise be an uneven contest between an individual versus the State,” the appeals court said.
Ferdinand Topacio, lawyer of the Reyes brothers, said “let us respect the courts.”
“We have always submitted ourselves to the legal processes, as have they. So they must respect it.”
“If they cannot respect the decisions of the agencies comprising our justice system, then they should not participate in these legal proceedings,” Topacio said.