I have right to create 2nd panel–De Lima

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MANILA, Philippines—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Monday insisted she did nothing wrong when she created a second panel at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to reinvestigate the 2011 killing of broadcaster Gerry Ortega. That panel recommended the filing of murder charges against former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother Mario Reyes.

De Lima said it was within her “broad authority’’ to do so although the Court of Appeals (CA) issued a second ruling clearing the Reyes brothers of complicity in Ortega’s murder, despite the recommendation of the second DOJ panel.

“We firmly take the position that the authority to create a panel carries with it, theoretically or as a matter of legal proposition, the authority to create a second or third panel, etc. or even to altogether dissolve the original panel,’’ De Lima told reporters.

“All that falls within the broad authority of the secretary of justice, in the interest of justice,” she added.

On March 19, the CA Special 10th Division voted 3-2 to uphold the order of the first DOJ panel clearing the Reyeses in the murder of Ortega.

But De Lima said the Office of the Solicitor General would appeal the ruling. It will be the second motion for reconsideration to be filed by the DOJ in the same case.

The DOJ filed a motion for reconsideration five months ago on the November 2012 order of the CA Special Fifth Division that nullified the second DOJ panel that reinvestigated the Ortega murder and recommended the filing of the charges against the Reyes brothers.

The Reyes brothers, who went into hiding shortly before arrest warrants were issued against them arising from the murder complaint, had filed separate petitions before the appellate court.

They had slammed the second DOJ body that De Lima created on Sept. 7, 2011, through Department Order No. 710 to conduct a reinvestigation after the first DOJ panel cleared the brothers of murder on June 8, 2011.

New evidence

The March 19 order was approved by three of the five-member CA Special 10th Division. Dissenting from the ruling were Associate Justices Noel Tijam and Romeo Barza, who both issued separate dissenting opinions.

Speaking to reporters after attending the 11th Asean Experts Group on Competition at Sofitel hotel in Pasay City, De Lima said she disagreed with the three justices who said her creation of the second DOJ panel caused chaos. She said she merely wanted the new pieces of evidence proffered by the Ortega camp looked into by the DOJ as they contained “the record of the exchanges of calls between the suspected mastermind and one of the coaccused turned state witness.’’

The first panel had wrapped up its work when the new evidence came up and, according to De Lima, she asked the first panel to reconvene so it could take a look at the new evidence but it refused to do so.

“So I created a second panel in order for it to take a look at the new evidence,’’ she said.

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