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Reyeses’ jailer in trouble

Leila fumes over press con behind bars
LIVING IT UP IN THAI RESORT. Former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother, former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, lived well on the resort island of Phuket in Thailand.  Unknown to them, phoning home to the Philippines would lead authorities to their hideout. PNP-PIO

LIVING IT UP IN THAI RESORT. Former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother, former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, lived well on the resort island of Phuket in Thailand. Unknown to them, phoning home to the Philippines would lead authorities to their hideout. PNP-PIO

If warranted, fire the jail warden.

An angry Justice Secretary Leila de Lima made that recommendation to Interior Secretary Mel Sarmiento after learning that former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother, former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, the alleged brains behind the 2011 murder of journalist Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega, were able to hold a press conference with reporters in Puerto Princesa City even under the tight watch by jail authorities.

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Held in an office in the city jail, the news conference lasted an hour and was aired live by several radio stations in Palawan.

Before the news conference, the Puerto Princesa jail warden, Supt. Don Paredes, explained that he allowed Reyes to talk to reporters because the former governor had requested permission to speak to the journalists who were covering his arrival in Puerto Princesa.

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Agents from the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group refused to allow the Reyeses to speak to reporters when they arrived at Puerto Princesa International Airport.

De Lima confirmed on Saturday that she had recommended administrative action against Paredes for allowing the Reyes brothers to hold the news conference upon their arrival in jail on Friday.

The Reyeses were flown back to Puerto Princesa hours after they were deported to the Philippines from Thailand, where they were arrested on Sept. 20.

They had been in hiding for more than three years.

READ: Reyes brothers lived in a villa, drove an SUV as fugitives / Reyes brothers in Ortega killing arrested in Thailand

“[I] referred the matter to Secretary Mel Sarmiento. He will look into that, especially so that, I understand, his strict instruction to the city warden is no VIP treatment,” De Lima told the Inquirer.

Sarmiento, as chief of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), oversees the country’s jail manager, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

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“I will leave it to Secretary Sarmiento or [to] BJMP authorities to impose appropriate disciplinary or administrative sanction, including relieving or replacing the city warden, if warranted, upon due verification of the reported infraction on the latter’s part,” De Lima said.

De Lima, who, as justice chief, oversees the Bureau of Corrections, said detainees and convicts, or “persons deprived of their liberty” for involvement in crime, “cannot just be allowed to hold press conferences without official permission.”

“And in the case of detention prisoners [like] the Reyes brothers, court permission is needed,” she said.

They surrendered?

Speaking to reporters in Puerto Princesa on Friday, Reyes, the former governor, claimed that he and his brother voluntarily surrendered to Thai authorities, and were not arrested as had been widely reported.

The ex-governor did the talking during the news conference, held after a local court ordered him and his brother committed to the Puerto Princesa City Jail, as they faced trial for Ortega’s murder.

Reports said the brothers, who were surrounded by security at the time, were initially barred from speaking to reporters, but Paredes eventually allowed the former governor to talk to the journalists.

Earlier, Paredes vowed not to give the Reyeses any special treatment.

A source told the Inquirer that Sarmiento had called up Paredes and told him to explain why he allowed the Reyeses to hold a news conference.

A lot to say

At the PNP provincial headquarters, where the brothers were first taken for booking before being presented to the Regional Trial Court for the return of their arrest warrants and the issuance of a commitment order, Reyes told reporters that he had a lot to say to them.

Paredes did not respond to reporters’ requests for comment yesterday. Jail officials also refused to entertain any more requests for interviews with the Reyeses.

The brothers are accused of masterminding the murder of Ortega, who criticized local officials for alleged misuse of funds from the provincial government’s earnings from the Malampaya gas field.

The gunman, Marlon Recamata, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2013. He pointed to the Reyes brothers as the masterminds of the killing.

Patricia Gloria Ortega, the widow of Ortega, said she had gone to the jail to verify reports that the Reyeses would be held there, but got a cold reception from the jail authorities.

“I wasn’t welcome [there]. I just wanted to see if the reports were true that they had prepared for the Reyeses’ commitment there,” Ortega said.

Downturn of fortune

The Reyeses were assigned to a 3-by-5-by-8-meter cell, in a sudden downturn of fortune after living in luxury in a villa on the resort island of Phuket in Thailand—the location for the 1974 James Bond film “The Man with the Golden Gun” and the 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Beach”—where they were arrested on Sept. 20 by Thai and international police.

Their cell is newly painted. It has its own toilet and is well ventilated, with two windows that look out to a basketball court.

A police source told the Inquirer that at least six detainees who used to occupy the cell were moved to other, overcrowded cells to make space for the Reyeses.

“We are overcrowded here, sir. Only they (the Reyes brothers) have their own cell in a nice location,” a detainee who asked not to be identified told the Inquirer.

Jail officials said there were 460 detainees in the jail. They said giving the Reyeses their own cell ran in line with the jail procedure of isolating “high-profile inmates” from the rest of the prison community.

DOJ: No to hospital detention

De Lima said the Department of Justice would oppose moves to transfer the Reyes brothers to hospital detention.

The brothers have said that their lawyers will seek hospital detention for them.

Hospital detention is becoming a common recourse for the rich and powerful in the Philippines when they run afoul of the law.

“Matters like that are subject to the court’s sound discretion. But on the part of the prosecution, we’ll definitely oppose that,” De Lima said.

She said putting the Reyeses in hospital detention would be a mockery of justice.

“[There is] no basis for hospital detention, which indubitably smacks of special or VIP treatment. Enough of such ruses or ploys [that] mock our justice system,” De Lima said.

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TAGS: BJMP, Bureau of Corrections, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Gerardo Ortega, Gerry Ortega, Joel Reyes, Mario Reyes Jr., Marlon Recamata, Mel Sarmiento, Ortega murder case, Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, PNP CIDG, Puerto Princesa City, Reyes brothers
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