‘No special treatment for Reyes brothers’
THERE is no special treatment for high-profile detainees former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes Jr., local government secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento said.
“We want to show there’s no special treatment here,” Sarmiento said, as he confirmed the relief of city jail warden Senior Insp. Don Paredes on Sunday for allowing the brothers, the accused masterminds in the murder of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerry Ortega in 2011, to conduct a press conference in the jail premises last Friday.
Palawan observers, however, claim a known staff member of the Reyeses was allowed to act as the brothers’ close-in police security escort upon their arrival in Puerto Princesa City last Friday.
Speaking to the media after the flag ceremonies at Camp Crame, Quezon City, on Monday, Sarmiento said while Paredes is under investigation, “he will be replaced so the public cannot say there is special treatment. We can assure you the [jail bureau] is under instructions not to give special treatment.”
Sarmiento said he had called Paredes, who tried to pass off the more than hour-long press conference as an “ambush interview.”
“The problem is we all saw in the [media footage] that they were seated. There’s a big question mark with his answer,” Sarmiento said.
Meanwhile, Sarmiento deferred to the Department of Justice (DOJ) should the Reyeses’ lawyers try to seek hospitalization for their clients.
Local observers, who requested anonymity for fear of their safety, pointed out that a certain Elmer Zita, known as a former staff member of the Reyeses, had been in the brothers’ press conference apparently acting as their close-in security.
Zita, according to the observers, was wearing the uniform of the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), and was also spotted when the brothers were presented to the Palawan court which issued the arrest warrants for them.
They claim that an official of the CIDG-Palawan identified
Zita as one of their “special agents.”
But in a phone interview on Monday, no less than CIDG director Chief Supt. Victor Deona said the only CIDG personnel authorized to escort the Reyes brothers from Metro Manila up to the Puerto Princesa City Jail on Friday were from the CIDG-National Capital Region.
“I did not authorize [any special agents] to secure [the Reyeses],” Deona said. “If there are any ‘special agents’ who escorted them, I will have them arrested.”
Deona said the “official participation” of the CIDG was to effect the Reyes brothers’ arrest upon their arrival in Manila, and to escort them up to the Puerto Princesa City Jail.
Deona said he would have investigated the claims of unauthorized personnel securing the Reyeses even up until the jail press conference.
In Puerto Princesa City, the Palawan Regional Trial Court (RTC) has set the arraignment of the Reyes brothers on Friday, even as it ruled out the likelihood of the case being transferred to another venue because of security considerations.
RTC Executive Judge Jose Bayani Usman said on Monday that the local court was in a position to continue the ongoing trial in Palawan with the Reyes brothers as principal suspects in the killing of Ortega.
Usman said there were no security threats that local authorities could not handle that would compel them to issue an order transferring the Reyeses to another detention facility and moving the venue of the trial.
“Palawan remains peaceful and our court is capable of properly handling the case,” he said.
Usman received the Reyes brothers on Sept. 25, after they were flown in from Manila and ordered their commitment or detention to the city jail of Puerto Princesa.
Friday’s arraignment was scheduled by Judge Angelo Arizala of RTC Branch 52, which hears the ongoing case.
The prosecution recently completed its presentation of witnesses against one of the principal accused, Arturo Regalado, a former aide of Reyes. The defense has a scheduled presentation of its rebuttal evidence on Nov. 10.
Jail authorities, meanwhile, clamped down on media interviews after Paredes’ removal.
The announcement was made by the Community Relations Services Office of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Mimaropa. It stated that Paredes’ relief was “to pave way for the conduct on an investigation regarding the alleged press con at the Puerto Princesa City Jail.”
Paredes was replaced by his second in command, Warden Ariel Pabulayan, as officer in charge.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said government prosecutors would oppose a reported request by the Reyeses to be placed under hospital arrest while being tried for the murder of Ortega. With a report from Jerome Aning
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