Release of former Palawan governor shocks family of slain broadcaster
Published: 4:56 p.m., Jan. 6, 2018 | Updated:; 10:49 p.m., Jan. 6, 2018
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY — The release of former Palawan Gov. Joel T. Reyes from detention on Friday has shocked the family of murdered broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega, even as it sparked celebration among Reyes’ friends and supporters.
In a statement, Ortega’s eldest daughter Michaella said the family was “still recovering from the shock of Friday’s Court of Appeals (CA) decision ordering the release of … the mastermind [in] the murder of radio broadcaster, environmentalist, and anticorruption advocate Dr. Gerry Ortega.”
The decision, the statement said, “comes a few weeks before the eighth year anniversary of Doc Gerry’s murder.” It had been “eight years of fighting for justice and press freedom,” said the family, adding that they had yet to receive a copy of the decision.
“We will need time with our lawyers to study it and plan our next move,” the family said. “Until then, we ask everyone to remain vigilant,” they added.
In a Facebook post, Ortega’s brother, Rafael Jr. described as “a bleak day for our justice system … the CA (decision) to overrule the proceedings of the Regional Trial Court (RTC).”
Reyes had been indicted as the mastermind in the 2011 murder of Ortega, but was released on Jan. 5, based on the CA order nullifying the earlier findings of a second panel created by the Department of Justice (DOJ) implicating the Palawan governor in the killing.
Stated the CA order: “The information in Criminal Case 26839 insofar as Mario T. Reyes is concerned is dismissed and the RTC, Fourth Judicial Region, Branch 52, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, is prohibited/barred from further proceeding with the case.”
The order was served late afternoon on Friday. The evening of his release, Reyes took a commercial flight to Manila from Puerto Princesa City.
Reyes’ counsel, Demetrio Custodio said on Saturday that the CA had upheld the petition to void the arrest warrant against the former governor because it found the testimony of a key witness “riddled with inconsistencies.”
Custodio quoted the court ruling as saying that “[o]n that basis, the finding of probable cause and the issuance of a warrant of arrest was wrong.”
A spokesperson for the appellate court could not be reached for comment.
Reyes, through his counsels, had questioned before the high court the legality of the trial proceedings at the RTC even as he evaded prosecution by hiding for three years in Phuket, Thailand. He was eventually arrested by the Thai police in 2015 and turned over to the Philippine government.
Reyes had argued that the dismissal of the charges against him by the first panel of investigations created by the DOJ in 2012 should prevail. Then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had created a second panel that reversed the department’s earlier findings, which led to Reyes’ indictment.
The CA’s order or release came despite an earlier Supreme Court ruling on Jan. 11, 2016, penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, that dismissed Reyes’ petition questioning the validity of the RTC trial.
“Since the trial court has already acquired jurisdiction over the case and the existence of probable cause has been judicially determined, a petition for certiorari questioning the conduct of the preliminary investigation ceases to be the ‘plain, speedy, and adequate remedy’ provided by law. Since this Petition for Review is an appeal from a moot Petition for Certiorari, it must also be rendered moot,” the high court ruling stated.
The Palawan RTC hearing the case had so far convicted several coaccused of the former governor, including his personal aide, Arturo Regalado, who was proven to have conspired with a group of hired killers from Quezon province to execute the assassination plan on Ortega.
RTC Presiding Judge Angelo Arizala had also allowed Reyes’ younger brother and coaccused Mario “Marjo” Reyes to post bail, along with the governor’s former provincial administrator Renato Serratubias. Serratubias however died following his release on bail.
Now presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, the Ortega family’s legal counsel prior to his Palace appointment, had conducted the direct testimony of the principal state witness to the case, the governor’s former bodyguard Rodolfo Edrad Jr.
“This has been a long journey. Gerry was my friend and we share the same advocacy for the environment and against corruption,” Roque said in a statement then. —With a report from AFP /atm /pdi
The Court of Appeals release order:
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