CA revives murder raps vs ex-Palawan gov Joel Reyes in Ortega slay
The Court of Appeals (CA) has ordered the reinstatement of criminal charges against former Palawan governor Mario Joel Reyes in connection with the killing of environmental advocate and newsman, Dr. Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega in 2011.
In a 17-page amended decision dated November 28, the appellate court’s Special Former Eleventh Division, through Associate Justice Marie Christine Azcarraga-Jacob, granted the motion for reconsideration filed by the Office of the Solicitor General.
The latest CA ruling reversed and set aside its January 2018 decision and now reinstates the original information and directed the Palawan Regional Trial Court (RTC) to issue a warrant of arrest against Reyes “and to conduct proceedings..with purposeful dispatch”.
Associate Justice Danton Q. Bueser, Victoria Isabel A. Paredes, Maria Filomena D. Singh and Rafael Antonio M. Santos concurred.
In granting the OSG’s motion, the CA acknowledged flaws in its original decision clearing Reyes.
“Indeed, the assailed decision has set the parameters of probable cause too high. The defenses raised by petitioner (Reyes), particularly the inadmissibility of (witness Rodolfo) Edrad extrajudicial confession and the alleged inconsistencies in the statements of the prosecution witnesses, are matters which are evidentiary in nature and best threshed out in a full-blown trial.”
“Thus, the proper course of action is not to dismiss the case but to proceed to trial. The Court, at this particular stage of the proceedings, cannot arrogate upon itself the task of dwelling on factual and evidentiary matters,” the CA said.
The court said the Palawan RTC Branch 52) did not commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing its March 27, 2012 omnibus order denying Reyes’ motion to suspend proceedings and its August 29, 2013 order which denied his motion to recall the warrant of arrest.
“In fact, the RTC performed its duty in a manner that meets the requirement of the Constitution when it carefully reviewed all the evidence on record” the CA said. After the issuance of warrants of arrest against the Reyeses they were able to fly to Thailand where they were apprehended and deported to the Philippines in 2015. In 2013, co-accused Marlon Recamata was found guilty by the Palawan court for the Ortega murder and was proven to be the one who fatally shot Ortega in the head, leading to his death.
Recamata who was caught after a police chase had initially claimed he shot Ortega in a botch robbery. He later implicated others including Rodolfo Edrad Jr.
A recovered firearm used by Recamata was found to be registered to former Palawan provincial administrator Atty. Romeo M. Seratubias. Arturo Regalado later surrendered to authorities claiming he had purchased the gun from Seratubias.
Edrad claimed he was a former bodyguard of former Marinduque Governor Jose Antonio Carrion and former Palawan Governor Mario Joel Reyes.
Edrad also implicated Regalado as part of the plot.
In 2016, the RTC also found Arturo Regalado guilty for the murder.
Unimpressed with their excuse on the trip to Thailand, the court noted that “flight is said to be indicative of guilt”, adding that “the Supreme Court’s position on the effects of unexplained flight on the guilt or innocence of an accused remains unchanged”. The victim was a keen critic of the local government’s policy on mining.