Reyes brothers, suspects in Ortega slay, arrested in Thailand

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 21 2015 12:24 PM | Updated as of Sep 22 2015 07:28 AM

MANILA (2ND UPDATE) - Former Palawan Governor Joel T. Reyes and his brother, ex-Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, both suspects in the 2011 murder of journalist and environmentalist Gerry Ortega, have been arrested in Thailand after more than three years on the run.

A spokesman of the Reyeses said the two were arrested Sunday by Thai police for overstaying, DZMM correspondent Romy Luzares reported.

Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said the two were detained on the Thai holiday island of Phuket.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima confirmed the arrest of the Reyes brothers, citing information from the Bureau of Immigration. She said the brothers' deportation was being processed.

The Reyes brothers are facing murder charges over the 2011 death of Gerry Ortega, a prominent Palawan environment activist who had also used a radio show he hosted to frequently accuse the Reyes brothers of massive graft.

The brothers went missing in early 2012 after an arrest warrant was issued for them and had initially fled to Vietnam and then Thailand, officials said.

"The arrest of the long-wanted Reyes brothers provides an opportunity for pursuing the ends of justice," Coloma said in a statement.

He acknowledged Interpol and the Thai police for their help in arresting the Reyes brothers, but did not provide further details.

GUNMAN'S WEAPON LINKED TO REYES

Ortega was shot in the head at point-blank range while shopping in the capital of Palawan, one of the Philippines' biggest islands that is known as one of the nation's last environmental frontiers but which has suffered from illegal logging, mining and fishing.

The gunman was caught trying to flee the scene and police said his weapon was owned by one of Joel Reyes's lawyers.

Aside from alleged environmental crimes such as illegal mining, Ortega had accused Joel Reyes of siphoning off millions of dollars in revenues from a gasfield off the coast of Palawan when he was governor.

The justice department's National Prosecution Service (NPS) earlier said there was probable cause to indict the Reyeses for the Ortega killing.

It noted that Rodolfo "Bumar" Edrad, former close-in bodyguard of ex-Marinduque governor Jose Antonio Carreon, admitted going to Mario Reyes' house in Ayala Alabang to receive P500,000, which was allegedly used to finance the plan to kill Ortega.

It also noted that Reyes sent 16 text messages to Edrad's phone on the day of Ortega's murder on January 24, 2011.

The panel also found it "hard to imagine that the [considerable amount of money used to finance the plan to kill Dr. Ortega] came from the pockets of respondent Edrad, given his financial status and the fact that he has no motive to kill the victim, unless he is induced by another person who has the financial capability to shell-out that amount of money and ... has motive to have the victim killed." Based on evidence on record, the Panel believed that "[i]n this case, respondent MJT Reyes has both."

REYESES WANTED TO OPEN FITNESS CENTERS

The brothers' escape reinforced the Philippines' reputation for having a "culture of impunity", with powerful men free to kill or intimidate political opponents, journalists and other critics without any punishment.

At least 169 journalists or media workers have been killed since the restoration of democracy in the Philippines in 1986, but only 13 cases have seen murder convictions, according to the nation's main press union.

Ortega's case is listed as one of the unsolved ones, because one of his jobs was a radio broadcaster.

His widow, Patty Ortega, expressed relief at the arrests but also said she was worried about whether the Reyes brothers could still evade justice.

"We still feel anxiety. Our judicial system is not that fast. We know our opponents have a lot of advantages. They have money, influence. They slipped through immigration. So it is not far from our thoughts that something else might happen," she told AFP.

"I want to see them handcuffed and facing a court and in jail."

Philippines' immigration bureau chief Siegfried Mison said the pair would be flown home soon.

"It is a cut-and-dried case. It should not take more than five days," he told ABS-CBN television.

In Thailand, Lieutenant General Thitiraj Nhongharnpitak , commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau, said the brothers had lived in the country for two years and had planned to open fitness centers. -- With reports from Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News, radio DZMM and Agence France-Presse