MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Leila De Lima is saddened by the Court of Appeals' (CA) ruling that invalidated a second panel of prosecutors she created to conduct a reinvestigation into the killing of environmentalist and broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega.
The second panel recommended the indictment of ex-Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes, his brother, Coron, Palawan Mayor Mario Reyes, and 3 others.
The appellate court also nullified the said panel's finding of probable cause against Joel Reyes, et al.
"Nakakalungkot naman na ngayon lamang nila (CA) naisip i-clip down the powers of the SOJ (Secretary of Justice)...’yung mga dating SOJ, once in a while, on a case to case basis, nag-exercise din ng plenary powers...that's my justification for the creation of the second panel, so bakit ngayon lang nila naisip i-restrain ang powers ng SOJ sa mga bagay na yan?" De Lima pointed out.
In a 36-page decision by the Special 5th Division, dated Nov. 22, penned by Associate Justice Leoncia Real-Dimagiba, the appellate court ruled that De Lima committed grave abuse of discretion in ordering the reinvestigation and designating a new panel of prosecutors to hear the murder charge against the Reyes brothers in spite of pending petitions for review filed by the Reyes's and Ortega's widow, Patria.
The first panel that handled the preliminary investigation absolved the Reyes brothers of the charge.
The appellate court pointed out that "[i]t behooves upon the Secretary of Justice to adhere to the Rules of Procedure the DOJ promulgated for orderly and effective administration of justice otherwise the vast power of the Secretary of Justice would be susceptible to abuse." The decision also pointed out that this was a "scary" scenario.
"They need not be scared of this SOJ," was De Lima's response.
De Lima, a former election lawyer of former Gov. Reyes, likened her predicament to that of a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation.
"Binabatikos ako noong una noong hindi ako nakialam. Noong nakialam ako, ako na naman ang hindi tama, so saan ako pupwesto?" she asked.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) will file a motion for reconsideration in an effort to reverse the appellate court's ruling, even as it maintained that the Reyes brothers are not yet off the hook since the case remains pending before a trial court.
Ortega was gunned down in Puerto Princesa City on Jan. 24, 2011.