PUERTO PRINCESA—The P2-million reward each for brothers Joel and Mario Reyes, wanted for the murder of environment advocate and broadcaster Gerry Ortega, is still in effect, according to the lawyer of the family of the murder victim.
Alex Avisado, lawyer of the Ortega family, said while the Court of Appeals decided against the Department of Justice’s second investigating panel that gathered new evidence against the Reyes brothers, the CA decision did not lift the arrest warrant for the brothers and the bounty for their capture stays.
“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 Avisado.
He said the CA did not order the quashing of the arrest warrant and the withdrawal of the complaint for murder filed at the regional trial court against Joel, former Palawan governor, and Mario, mayor of Coron town.
The brothers have turned fugitives after RTC Judge Angelo Arizala, who is handling the murder case, issued arrest warrants for them.
“We are in it for the long haul,” said Avisado. He said the Ortega family will oppose any bid by the Reyeses to capitalize on the CA ruling.
Avisado said the CA ruling on the Reyeses is much different from the court’s ruling on the case of Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who went into hiding after he was implicated in the Dacer-Corbito murder case.
In Lacson’s case, Avisado said, the CA directly ordered the withdrawal of the arrest warrant against the senator.
“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 elbow room to clarify her order,” Avisado said.
Justice 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 case against the Reyes brothers and three other suspects proceeded from the ruling of the second panel, which led to the issuance by Judge Arizala of arrest warrants.
The three other suspects—former provincial administrator Romeo Seratubias and two aides of former Governor 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 alias, Joseph Lim Pe.
Dr. Gerry Ortega was shot and killed by a man who had admitted he was hired by Reyes’ former bodyguard, Rodolfo “Bumar” Edrad Jr. Edrad is now a state witness and is currently under the DOJ’s witness protection program.
In a press conference in Makati City yesterday, the widow of Ortega said the murder case against the Reyes brothers is very much alive because the CA did not rule on whether or not there is sufficient basis or evidence to charge the brothers with Ortega’s murder.
Accompanied by her lawyer Avisado and Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn, Patricia Ortega said the murder case continues and played down reports that the Ortega family had suffered a setback with the CA ruling.
“The murder case is still pending in Palawan,” said Patricia. “The arrest warrants are in effect and there is still a reward of P2 million each for the fugitive Reyes brothers,” she said.
She said early reports on the CA ruling “gave the impression that the fugitive Reyes brothers have been exonerated.”
“We were initially led to believe that the warrant of arrest has been quashed,” said the widow. “It is now quite apparent that this was a conscious (attempt at) disinformation,” she said. With a report by Jaymee T. Gamil in Manila