Team in Reyes manhunt endures lack of support
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—The small group of government agents that was gathered around a table in a coffee shop spoke almost in whispers, obviously discussing confidential matter.
The men belong to a group of trackers whose single biggest assignment is to bring in fugitive Joel T. Reyes, former Palawan governor, and his brother, Coron Mayor Mario T. Reyes.
While they keep key pieces of information on the hunt for the Reyes brothers top secret, there is one thing they couldn’t hide—feeling abandoned by national officials.
While top officials of the national police, led by Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, have been publicly announcing government support for the hunt for the Reyeses, there appears to be no centralized group coordinating the manhunt and mobilizing all government resources to hale the brothers to court for involvement in the murder of broadcast journalist Gerry Ortega.
“We operate basically on our own. We have little coordination with the PNP (central office) or any other law enforcement group,” said the leader of the group, who asked not to be identified.
If there were other police units tracking down the Reyes brothers, the source said he and his team were not aware of it.
Members of the group—from the local police, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the city’s Special Operations Unit (SOU)—were never formally organized but have been working together since they were separately assigned to handle the investigation of Ortega’s killing in January 2011.
They shared pieces of information as they tracked down suspects and pieced together events before and after the murder that had led to the identification of the former Palawan governor as the alleged mastermind.
They relied on limited funds provided by their agencies and have little or no national support.
Still, they managed to arrest two of former Governor Reyes’ key aides who had been in hiding and similarly charged with murder at the Palawan Regional Trial Court.
“We don’t know if there are other law enforcement groups looking for the suspects. But I doubt there are any, otherwise we should be coordinating,” said the group leader.
On Thursday, Senior Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr., national police spokesperson, was quoted as saying the manhunt for the Reyeses and other high-profile fugitives was continuing.
“Maybe they (PNP hierarchy) are referring to us. But basically, we operate locally without any support from the PNP,” the group’s leader said.
He admitted his team had not received even intelligence data support from other government agencies and had to rely on their own network of resources.
Operating in Manila, outside of their base in Puerto Princesa, for several weeks about a month ago had led to the capture of two key suspects—Arturo Regalado and Val Lecias. Both were aides of former Governor Reyes and were identified as being involved in the actual operations that led to the killing of Ortega on Jan. 24, 2011.
Regalado, the group leader said, asked to surrender on April 11 after realizing the trackers had identified his location in Manila.
About two weeks later, Lecias was bagged after the group tracked him down in a safe house in Pasig City, Metro Manila.
Asked if they have solid information on the location of the Reyes brothers, the group’s leader just smiled to evade answering the question. He said, however, that the fugitives were still in the country.
President Aquino last Tuesday admitted “shortcomings” in the government’s drive to capture prominent fugitives like the Reyes brothers.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.