MANILA, Philippines—The family of slain Palawan environmentalist journalist Dr. Gerry Ortega said that there might have been an attempt to cover up the alleged suicide of a key witness in the Ortega murder case.
Dennis Aranas, who was suspected of being a lookout of the group that assassinated Ortega, was found dead in his cell in a jail in Lucena City, Quezon, last Wednesday.
He had allegedly committed suicide, jail authorities told local police. But when police came to Aranas’ cell to investigate, the body had already been taken to the morgue and the cell cleaned.
Ortega’s wife Patty and daughter Mika were suspicious of the circumstances of the incident and questioned whether it was an attempt to silence witnesses who can testify against the principal suspect former Palawan governor Joel Reyes.
“Not only possible but probable,” Mika Ortega said in a text message Thursday when asked if it was possible that jail authorities tried to cover up the incident by not immediately reporting it to the police and cleaning up the scene.
“Even the wife and family of Aranas don’t believe he would commit suicide,” Mika told reporters after the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing in the Senate on the alleged misuse of funds from the Malampaya gas project by the provincial government.
The police were also curious because they were not told about the incident and the immediate clean-up of the scene because they should have been given the opportunity to investigate it, Mika said.
“There are a lot of things that are really doubtful, that’s why we are calling for an autopsy from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI),” Mika said.
Jail authorities were already being held for investigation, reports said.
Earlier during the hearing headed by Senator Teofisto Guingona, it was found that Aranas was removed from the witness protection program of the Department of Justice because he had a warrant of arrest for another case that was filed in Lucena.
Guingona said that that is a loophole in the law that was exploited and eventually led to the loss of a key witness in the Ortega murder case.
Gerry Ortega was a journalist and environmentalist in Palawan that had been very critical of the provincial governor and active in exposing corruption in the local government.
The Commission on Audit had previously disallowed an estimated P3.9 billion worth of infrastructure projects in Palawan because of alleged irregularities.
Reyes, along with his brother Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, are both believed to have left the country. They have already been placed in the most wanted list of the Philippine National Police with a P2 million reward each.