2 CA justices say ex-Palawan gov should face trial for murder
Published: 5:35 p.m., Jan. 7, 2018 | Updated: 11:51 p.m., Jan. 7, 2018
It was not a “miracle” or a “lucky three-point play” but a “premature” conclusion of a special division of the Court of Appeals that saved former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes from standing trial for the murder of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerry Ortega, according to one of the two justices who voted to throw out Reyes’ petition for a review of his case.
In her dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Maria Filomena Singh contested the views of Associate Justice Normandie Pizarro, who wrote the majority ruling that enabled Reyes to walk away from the murder case.
Contrary to earlier reports, Singh and Associate Justice Marie Christine Azcarraga-Jacob opposed the decision of Pizarro, the same justice who wrote the Jan. 3 resolution that blocked the attempt of victims of human rights violations during martial law to collect $2 billion in compensation from the stolen wealth of the Marcos family that was awarded to them by a Hawaii court.
Jacob and Singh wrote separate dissenting opinions on the appeals court’s Jan. 4 decision that directed authorities to release Reyes from the city jail in Puerto Princesa City on Friday.
Pizarro, the chair of the appeals court’s former 11th division, was joined by Associate Justices Danton Bueser and Victoria Paredes in granting Reyes’ petition for certiorari and prohibition, which questioned the warrant for his arrest issued by Branch 52 of the Puerto Princesa City Regional Trial Court (RTC).
In contradicting her colleagues, Singh pointed out that trial court judges were in the best position to rule on the issuance of arrest warrants against crime suspects and the determination of probable cause against them as spelled out in Section 5(a), Rule 112 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure.
She also questioned how Pizarro could have arrived at a conclusion on the credibility of evidence against Reyes when the lower court had not even held a formal hearing on the case.
“Where no trial has been conducted, there is even no certainty that these evidence will be utilized and offered by the prosecution,” Singh said in her 18-page dissenting opinion, a copy of which was given to the Inquirer.
“The assessment of the credence and weight of these statements in the majority opinion is thus clearly premature and cannot be the basis for ascribing grave abuse of discretion to the RTC,” she stressed.
In ordering Reyes’ release, the appeals court said: “Call it a second chance afforded him by God or a lucky three-point play for him, to use a common street lingo, or a miracle in his favor, [Reyes] must by all means be exonerated from the charge.”
But Singh maintained that the “extraordinary writ of certiorari should not [be issued] unless there is clear and convincing proof” that the RTC went beyond its authority and committed grave abuse of discretion.
“Neither was demonstrated in this case,” she said. “The reasons cited by [Pizarro] touched on plainly evidentiary matters which … are properly threshed out only during a trial and prematurely at this stage when probable cause is still being determined.”
Reyes tied to killing
Singh disputed Pizarro’s opinion that state prosecutors had no evidence against the former Palawan governor besides the testimony of Rodolfo Edrad, alias Bumar, who admitted to hiring the confessed gunman, Marlon Recamata, allegedly on Reyes’ order.
She said the separate sworn affidavits of fellow accused Recamata, Arwin Arandia and Armando Noel Jr. all tied Reyes to the killing of Ortega, who had criticized Reyes for alleged corruption and supposed involvement in mining operations in Palawan.
Singh also wondered how her colleagues ignored the fact that even Reyes’ own brother and coaccused, former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, had disclosed that he sent money to Edrad “upon the instruction” of Reyes on the day Ortega was shot dead in Puerto Princesa.
‘Elaborate plan to kill’
“With the foregoing statements of the key individuals who admitted having taken part in the elaborate plan to kill and in the actual killing of Dr. Ortega … the undersigned is convinced that there is probable cause to issue a warrant for the arrest of the petitioner as the RTC found,” Singh said.
She added: “The evidence submitted to the RTC in support of the charge tells a clear story—that [Reyes], as former governor of Palawan, prima facie ordered the killing of Dr. Ortega.”
As decided by the Supreme Court in previous cases, Singh said the indictment of individuals in criminal cases “need not rest on absolute certainty” and that it did not mean that an accused has been found guilty of committing a crime.”
“[T]he determination of the admissibility of evidence presented is a function of trial and is best left to the trial judge who is in the best position to accord the same the evidentiary weight it deserves,” Singh said.
“To the mind of the undersigned, the RTC … was able to [order Reyes’ arrest] based on a reasonable belief, after conducting an evaluation of the evidence on record, that the offense charged in the information was indeed committed and that the petitioner is probably guilty,” she added.
The Inquirer learned that Pizarro, Bueser and Jacob were the original members of the division that deliberated on Reyes’ plea.
When Jacob disagreed with the original decision of her two colleagues, the appeals court formed a special division composed of five justices in accordance with Section 10, Rule VI of the court’s Internal Rules.
Singh and Paredes were eventually assigned as special members, with Singh joining Jacob in opposing the majority.
In her own dissenting opinion, Jacob said Reyes’ petition should have been junked for “being patently without merit” and that the RTC was supposed to ascertain the “probability, not the certainty” that Reyes had ordered Ortega’s killing.
“The court, at this particular stage of the proceedings, cannot arrogate [to] itself the task of dwelling on factual and evidentiary matters,” Jacob argued. /atm /pdi
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