Witness in Ortega murder found dead

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09:44 PM February 6th, 2013

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Relatives and supporters of murdered Palawan environmentalist Gerry Ortega urge the Court of Appeals in Manila to uphold the arrest warrants issued by a lower court against the suspects, former Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother, Coron Mayor Mario Reyes. NIÑO JESUS ORBETA FILE PHOTO

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—A man who was detained for involvement in the killing of Palawan environmentalist and journalist Gerry Ortega has been found dead inside the Quezon provincial jail in Lucena City, the inmate’s wife said.

Dennis Aranas, tagged as a lookout in the murder of Ortega, was found by other inmates hanging from a ceiling with a strap of a shoulder bag around his neck on Tuesday.

His wife, Marilyn, said jail officials informed her about Dennis’ alleged suicide on Tuesday noon.

“I don’t want to believe it,” said Marilyn. “I want an autopsy but we don’t have money,” she said in a phone interview.

Aranas was sharing a cell with 30 other inmates since he was ordered detained at the Quezon provincial jail on June 29, 2012 for murder and frustrated murder.

Marilyn said her husband was recently released from the Witness Protection Program (WPP) as a state witness in the Ortega case because of a murder case filed against him in Gumaca, Quezon, in June last year.

She said the case in Gumaca surprised her because her husband has never been to the town.

Chief Supt. Serafin Barretto Jr., head of the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), yesterday said Aranas, 37, was found dead by another inmate, Christopher Marquez, past 10 a.m.

“They were about to eat but (Aranas) decided to stay behind,” Barreto said. “When the other inmates came back, they saw him hanging,” he said in a phone interview.

Barretto, quoting inmates, said Aranas has been depressed and has been telling his cell mates that he could no longer bear being detained.

Quezon police director Dionardo Carlos, in a phone interview, said police would conduct a postmortem investigation to “erase doubts that there was foul play.”

Aranas was part of a three-man hit team from Pagbilao, Quezon, that was hired by now state witness Rodolfo “Bumar” Edrad to kill Ortega on Jan. 24, 2010. He acted as a lookout.

After hiding in Coron, Palawan, days after the murder, Aranas surrendered to authorities.

Former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes was linked to the murder after police traced the murder weapon to Reyes’ provincial administrator, Romeo Seratubias.

The Ortega family expressed concern over Aranas’ death. Michaella Ortega, the slain environmentalist’s daughter, said the Ortega family is helping raise money for the autopsy on Aranas.

She said that as a witness to the murder, Aranas corroborated other testimony and pieces of evidence that led the murder trail to Reyes.

Michaella said thus far, two witnesses in the case have already died. Val Lecias, buyer of the murder weapon, died last year, she said.

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