MANILA (UPDATE) - The Court of Appeals (CA) has nullified the creation of a second panel of prosecutors in the preliminary investigation into murder charges against former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and several others for the killing of Palawan environmentalist and broadcaster Dr. Gerardo Ortega, and set aside the finding of probable cause against Ortega and 3 others.
In a 36-page decision by the Special 5th Division, dated Nov. 22, penned by Associate Justice Leoncia Real-Dimagiba, the appellate court granted the petition of Reyes' brother, Coron, Palawan Mayor Mario Reyes and ruled that Justice Sec. Leila De Lima committed grave abuse of discretion "when she refused/failed to exercise her power to review the resolution of the original panel despite a petition for review" filed by the Reyes' brothers.
"It 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. Scary!!" the decision read.
In June 2011, the first DOJ investigating panel, composed of Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Edwin Dayog, chairman, and members Assistant State Prosecutor Bryan Jacinto Cacha and Prosecution Attorney John Benedict Medina, absolved the Reyes brothers, former Marinduque Gov. Jose Carreon, former Palawan administrator Romeo Seratubias, Arturo Regalado, and Percival Lecias of Ortega's murder.
De Lima ordered a reinvestigation and designated a new panel composed of Assistant State Prosecutors Allan Mariano, Vimar Barcellano and Gerard Gaerlan.
In their assailed resolution dated March 12, 2012, the second panel recommended the indictment of Reyes and the others, except for Carreon.
Subsequently, the Reyes brothers were charged before a trial court.
In its ruling, the appellate court said that while the creation of the second panel and the order for reinvestigation are within the authority of the Secretary of Justice, there was grave abuse of discretion when she created the second panel instead of acting on respondents' petition for review.
The appellate court also ruled that there was grave abuse on the part of the second panel "when it exceeded the authority vested upon it by the Secretary of Justice which was to assess the admissibility of the additional evidence submitted during the investigation, but issued a resolution modifying the resolution of the original investigating panel, which it did not have the authority to, as the same rests exclusively with the Secretary of Justice."
"[T]he creation of... [second] panel was tainted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, the same is hereby declared null and void. Wherefore, the creation of... [second] panel being null and void, the resolution dated 12 March 2012 is set aside and nullified," the appellate court said.
Ortega was gunned down in Puerto Princesa City on Jan. 24, 2011.