Citing Thailand escape, Ombudsman seeks Joel Reyes’ rearrest
Fearing a repeat of his escape to Thailand, the Ombudsman has asked the Sandiganbayan to cancel the bail of former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes and order his rearrest despite his pending appeal on his graft conviction.
In a three-page urgent motion, antigraft prosecutors stressed the need to “prevent [the] recurrence” of Reyes’s previous escape when he was still facing the murder case of broadcaster Gerry Ortega.
But, Reyes’s lawyer, Demetrio Custodio, said: “It would be absurd to even think that Gov. Reyes would be a flight risk at this time, considering that he has just scored a very significant legal victory at the Court of Appeals.”
“Why would he mitigate the value of this victory by fleeing?” Custodio said.
The Sandiganbayan Third Division on Aug. 29 already meted out a prison term of six to eight years on Reyes over the anomalous renewal of the mining permit of a company that exceeded ore extraction limits.
However, over the Ombudsman’s objections, the court still allowed Reyes to post a P60,000 bail—double the bond required when the trial was still pending—while it resolved his appeal.
At the time of his graft conviction, his nonbailable murder case was still pending. Since he was still detained in Puerto Princesa City at the time, the Sandiganbayan found no reason to deny him bail.
But, the Court of Appeals’ Jan. 5 decision to set aside the Palawan court’s finding of probable cause in the murder case allowed Reyes to walk free that day, thanks to the bail he had long posted on his pending corruption cases in the Sandiganbayan.
The said pleading contained a printout of the Inquirer’s Jan. 6 story that first revealed Reyes’s freedom.
Stop recurrence of escape
Now that Reyes was no longer detained, prosecutors in the mining permits case asked the court to reconsider the grant of his bail because “the circumstances… have changed.”
It reminded the court that “accused Reyes was a fugitive,” having fled the country with his brother, former Coron mayor Mario Reyes, in March 2012 following their indictment for Ortega’s January 2011 killing.
The brothers reportedly led a lavish lifestyle in Phuket, Thailand, before they were arrested by local authorities on September 2015 for violation of immigration laws.
“Had it not been for the intervention of Thai authorities, accused Reyes would not have been deported to face the criminal charges against him,” read the motion filed by the Office of the Special Prosecutor.
“Considering accused Reyes’ previous record and to prevent its recurrence, the cancellation of his bail and his immediate commitment to prison are warranted,” it added.
Anomalous mining permits
The Aug. 29 graft conviction arose from the renewal of Olympic Mines and Development Corp.’s (OMDC) small-scale mining permit for the period of Apr. 6, 2006 to Apr. 5, 2008.
Prosecutors questioned the renewal because OMDC already exceeded the annual maximum extraction limit of 50,000 dry metric tons (DMT) of ore, and because it used heavy equipment in its operations in violation of small-scale mining laws.
Notably, OMDC’s permit was renewed seven months ahead of its Nov. 3, 2006 expiration, because the mining firm had exhausted its limit too early.
OMDC operated in the southern Palawan towns of Narra and Sofronio Española. Court records showed that Platinum Group transported on behalf of OMDC a total of 203,399.135 DMT from May 30, 2005 to Apr. 3, 2006 and 79,330 DMT from June 2, 2006 to July 31, 2006.
Ortega’s Malampaya exposé
Reyes also faces 36 counts of graft pending at the Sandiganbayan Second Division in connection with anomalies attending 209 contracts funded by P1.53-billion in royalties from the Malampaya gas field in 2008 and 2009.
Prosecutors accused Reyes of awarding 209 public works contracts to 11 construction firms sometime in 2008, despite several violations of the Government Procurement Reform Act.
The infrastructure contracts were also allegedly disadvantageous for not containing a clause requiring the payment of liquidated damages in case of project delays.
Ortega’s killing was attributed by local media to his exposé of the allegedly irregular use of Malampaya funds that had now led to the pending charges.
Reyes had also been charged with graft over the misuse of P3.25 million in fertilizer funds in 2004, but the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division threw out the case in May over unreasonable delays in the Ombudsman’s investigation. /je
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