CA maintains ruling clearing ex-mayor of involvement in Gerry Ortega murder

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MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals maintained its 2012 ruling nullifying the body that created to investigate the involvement of former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes in the death of broadcaster Gerry Ortega and reinstating the ruling of the first panel finding no probable cause to charge him with murder.

In a decision promulgated April 4 but made public Wednesday, the appeals court former special fifth division through Associate Justice Leoncia Real-Dimagiba said they could not find any reason to reverse their Nov. 23, 2012 decision.

The Court of Appeals building in Ermita, Manila. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/COURT OF APPEALS WEBSITE

The appeals court, in its 2012 ruling, said Justice Secretary Leila De Lima committed grave abuse of discretion when she created the second panel of investigators through Department Order 710 despite the existence of a first panel that recommended the dismissal of murder case against Mario Reyes and his brother former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes.

On June 8, 2011, the first panel of prosecutors dismissed for insufficiency of evidence the murder complaint against the Reyes brothers. Patria Gloria Inocencio Ortega, wife of Gerry Ortega, sought a re-investigation of the case which was denied by the panel prompting her to file a petition for review before the Secretary of Justice.

In September 2011, De Lima issued DO 710 creating a new set of panel of prosecutors to re-investigate the case against the Reyes brothers. The panel ordered the brothers to submit counter-affidavits on the murder complaint against them. On March 20, 2012, the panel eventually filed the case before the court. The Palawan Regional Trial Court then issued a warrant for their arrest.

The government, through the Office of the Solicitor-General, appealed the decision but the appeals court junked it.

“We recognize the power of supervision and control of the Secretary of Justice over the prosecutors…We only emphasize that the power of the Secretary of Justice is neither unbridled nor boundless,” the appeals court said pointing that it is limited by the constitutional rights of the accused, Rules of Court, DOJ Circular or the 2000 National Prosecution Service Rules on Appeal and the Prosecution Service Act of 2010.

“We agree as we reiterate that the Secretary of Justice has the authority to create a panel to conduct an investigation. Thus, she has the authority to create the D.O. [Department Order 710] panel. The creation of the panel per se is adjunct to the exercise by the Secretary of Justice of her function. But when the Secretary of Justice created DO 710 without regard to existing rules, she has gone astray,” the appeals court said.

However, the appeals court said they cannot nullify the proceedings already pending with the Palawan court. It pointed that what was raised before them is whether the Secretary of Justice erred when she created the second panel of investigators.

The Court said it is up to the lower court to affirm or dismiss the findings of probable cause against Reyes.

Another division of the appeals court also ruled in favor of Reyes’ brother, the former governor. The DOJ has yet to file an appeal on the ruling.

The Reyes brothers are two of the five most wanted men in the country with a P2-million reward for their arrest.

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