Grave abuse of discretion.
The Court of Appeals (CA) voted 3-2 on Tuesday to nullify a second body created by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that recommended the prosecution of former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother Mario for the 2011 murder of radio commentator Gerry Ortega after the first panel she formed had cleared them of the charges.
The five-member CA Special 10th Division, acting on the petition by the former Palawan governor, upheld the findings of the first panel that absolved the Reyes brothers of charges in connection with the Ortega murder.
The latest ruling came four months after another CA division, the Special Fifth Division, also scratched the second panel that reinvestigated the case and recommended the prosecution of the governor and his brother, the former mayor of Coron.
The Reyes brothers, who went into hiding shortly before arrest warrants were issued against them, filed separate petitions in the appellate court. They slammed the second panel created on Sept. 7, 2011, after the first panel cleared the brothers on June 8, 2011.
In a 20-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Angelita Gacutan, the CA Special 10th Division said that there were “specific rules of procedures” that the justice department had to follow in the investigation and review of criminal cases.
The decision was concurred with by Associate Justices Fernanda Lampas Peralta and Francisco Acosta, who issued a separate concurring opinion. Dissenting were Associate Justices Noel Tijam and Romeo Barza, who both issued separate dissenting opinions.
The court said the creation of the second panel and its subsequent finding “only caused disorder in what could otherwise have been an orderly administration of justice.”
It noted that De Lima opted to create a second panel than act on the petition for review that Ortega’s wife, Patty, had filed questioning the first panel’s dismissal of the murder complaint against the Reyeses.
The court said it was “safe to assume” that the petition filed by Patty Ortega was still awaiting resolution by De Lima’s office.
“Needless to say, since at this precise moment this finding by the first panel of prosecutors has not yet been reversed, affirmed or modified … such finding is still valid. For all legal intents and purposes, therefore, petitioner should not have been indicted for the crime of murder,” the court said.
It said De Lima should have followed the rules of her own department and had she done so, “the chaotic situation … could have been very well avoided.”
The court also said there was no legal basis for the second panel to modify the findings of the first panel since both bodies were “coequal” and that only the justice secretary “can, consistent with the rules, modify, affirm or reverse the findings of either of them.”
It said De Lima “failed to observe the procedural rights of petitioner and violated the guarantees of due process.”
The court said there was a “patent grave abuse of discretion tantamount to lack of or in excess of jurisdiction” in De Lima’s creation of the second panel of prosecutors. It said because of these “procedural flaws” Reyes was charged with murder and an arrest warrant was issued against him.
It declared as null and void the order that created the second panel as well as its March 12 resolution. The court also reinstated the resolutions of the first panel.
Ferdinand Topacio, counsel for Joel Reyes, said he would present the ruling to the Palawan court hearing the murder complaint so that it could quash the arrest warrants and dismiss the case.
The Ortega family declined immediate comment.
Court questioning 2nd panel
In a statement issued Wednesday, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño expressed apprehension over the decision and said if left unchecked the Reyes brothers might get away with murder.
He said what was clear in the decision was that the court was only questioning the creation of the second panel, not the case against the Reyes brothers.
“As it is, the truth is that the murder case is still pending in Palawan, the arrest warrant is in effect and there is still a reward of P2 million each for the fugitive Reyes brothers,” said Casiño, a senatorial candidate under the Makabayan party who authored a House resolution calling for an investigation of Ortega’s killing.—With a report from Redempto D. Anda, Inquirer Southern Luzon