PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—Fugitive former Palawan governor Joel T. Reyes, indicted as mastermind in the 2011 killing of environmentalist and broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega, is not yet off the hook despite a ruling released Monday by the Court of Appeals, the Ortega family’s counsel said Wednesday.
“The CA ruling is confined only to the technicality of the creation of the second panel of prosecutors that investigated the evidence on the Ortega murder case,” said lawyer Alex Avisado, lead counsel for the Ortega family.
Avisado said the CA did not order the quashing of the arrest warrant and the withdrawal of the information filed before the regional trial court.
The CA has ruled in favor of the motion of Reyes and brother, former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, in the killing, stating in effect that the creation of the second panel violated established procedures in conducting preliminary investigation.
Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, the Reyeses’ counsel, disclosed the appellate court’s ruling to the public on Monday.
In local radio interviews, Topacio said the CA ruling, “by extension of logic” in effect rendered invalid the filing of information for murder against most of the suspects currently being tried before the sala of RTC Judge Angelo Arizala.
“Mahabang usapin pa ito (We still have a long way to go), although we anticipate that the lawyers of the Reyeses will file another motion to quash the warrant based on the CA ruling,” Avisado said.
He indicated that the Ortega family’s lawyers will oppose the bid of the Reyeses to capitalize on the CA ruling and ask Judge Arizala to dismiss the complaints and discontinue the ongoing trial.
“Expect either side to fight on until we reach the Supreme Court,” Avisado said.
He added that as the arrest warrant for the Reyes brothers continue to be in effect, so are the rewards of P2 million each for their capture.
Avisado pointed out that in the case of Senator Panfilo Lacson who went into hiding after he was implicated in the Daquer-Orbito murder case, the CA ruled in his favor and directly ordered the withdrawal of the arrest warrant.
“In the case of the CA decision on the motion filed by Mayor Mario Reyes, the CA merely ruled on a technicality involving the creation of the second DOJ panel to give the DOJ secretary the elbow room to clarify her order,” Avisado said.
DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima had formed a second special prosecution panel to reinvestigate the case after the first three-man panel ruled to dismiss the evidence filed against the suspects.
The filing of the murder information against the Reyeses and three other suspects proceeded from the ruling of the second panel, which led to the issuance by Judge Arizala of an arrest warrant.
The three other suspects–former provincial administrator Romeo Seratubias and two aides of Joel Reyes–are detained while undergoing trial.
The Reyes brothers fled as soon as the arrest warrants were issued and were reported to have at one point traveled to Vietnam with Joel Reyes using a fake passport under an assumed alias, Joseph Lim Pe.
Ortega, fondly called “Doc Gerry” was shot dead in Puerto Princesa on Jan. 24, 2011 by a hitman, who has admitted he was hired by ex-governor Reyes’ former bodyguard, Rodolfo “Bumar” Edrad Jr., who had turned state witness and is currently under the DOJ’s witness protection program