SC: Start murder trial of Reyes brothers
The Supreme Court has directed the Palawan Regional Trial Court to proceed with the trial of Palawan ex-Gov. Joel Reyes for the 2011 murder of radio broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega, as it set aside a certiorari petition by former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who questioned the preliminary investigation of the case.
The high court noted that the trial court had already determined independently that probable cause exists to issue an arrest warrant against Reyes.
Therefore, jurisdiction over the case had transferred to the trial court and the trial should proceed, the high court’s Second Division said in a decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.
Reyes and his brother, former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, are detained in the Puerto Princesa City jail awating trial for the murder in 2011 of Ortega, a vocal critic of Reyes when he was governor. The brothers fled the country and were fugitives for more than three years until their capture in Phuket, Thailand, last year. A state witness, a former bodyguard, pointed to the brothers as the mastermind of Ortega’s murder.
De Lima had filed a certiorari petition in the high court against a Court of Appeals decision that annulled her creation of a second panel of prosecutors to reinvestigate the Ortega murder case.
The appellate court upheld the defense’s claim that De Lima had gravely abused her discretion when she created a second panel to reinvestigate the case after the first panel refused to receive additional evidence that would have been crucial for the determination of probable cause.
More prudent course
The Second Division justices decided that it would be “more prudent to refrain from entertaining the [De Lima] petition considering that the trial court already issued a warrant of arrest against [the] respondent.”
“[T]he trial court has already determined, independently of any finding or recommendation by the first panel or second panel, that probable cause exists for the issuance of the warrant of arrest against respondent. Probable cause has been judicially determined. Jurisdiction over the case, therefore, has transferred to the trial court,” the justices said.
“A petition for certiorari questioning the validity of the preliminary investigation in any other venue has been rendered moot by the issuance of the warrant of arrest and the conduct of arraignment,” they said.
The ruling noted that the Palawan RTC Branch 52 handling the criminal case had issued an arrest warrant against Reyes after a judicial determination of probable cause.
The issuance of the arrest warrants against Reyes and his coaccused on March 27, 2012, “signifies that the trial court has made an independent determination of the existence of probable cause,” it said.
“Once the information is filed in court, the court acquires the jurisdiction of the case and any motion to dismiss the case or to determine the accused’s guilt or innocence rests within the sound discretion of the court,” the high court said.
Division chair Justice Antonio Carpio and members Justices Arturo Brion, Mariano del Castillo and Jose Mendoza concurred in the ruling.
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