MANILA (UPDATED) - Former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes on Thursday assured the Sandiganbayan that he would not flee as the court tackled the Office of the Ombudsman's urgent motion for his rearrest over his graft conviction for the anomalous renewal of a small-scale mining permit in his province.
Reyes, who was recently released from detention after he was cleared of murder charges in connection with the slay of broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega, appeared at Thursday's hearing on the prosecution's motion to cancel his bail and his immediate rearrest.
His lawyer Demetrio Custodio told the court that Reyes, who had fled after he was tagged in Ortega's 2011 murder, would not resort to hiding, contrary to fears of government prosecutors.
In an interview with the media after the hearing, Reyes echoed his lawyer's statement.
"Hindi naman po ako aalis, nandito po ako. Naniniwala po ako sa rule of law at nakakalungkot nga po dahil kalalabas ko lang ng kulungan doon sa isang kasong napakabigat eh," Reyes said.
(I'm not going to flee. I'm here. I believe in the rule of law but it makes me sad because I just got out of detention from a grave case.)
Last week, the Court of Appeals dismissed murder charges against Reyes in connection with Ortega's slay, releasing him from detention.
The Ombudsman readily sought Reyes' rearrest, citing the Sandiganbayan's August 2017 ruling sentencing him to 6 to 8 years in jail for allowing a mining company to over-extract ore in Palawan in 2006.
He was only allowed to post bail in his graft case since he was then already detained in Puerto Princesa City over non-bailable murder charges.
In its motion, the Ombudsman said Reyes should be jailed anew since he is a "flight risk," citing the former official's escape to Thailand while wanted for Ortega's murder.
He fled overseas from 2012, when he was ordered arrested, until 2015, when he was captured in Thailand.
Reyes, for his part, told reporters that he escaped that time as he feared what might happen to him amid the "heat of politics" back then.
"Ayoko na sana balikan pero napakainit po ng pagkakataon na 'yun. Pulitika po. Baka ho kung nandito pa ako nung pagkakataon na 'yun, baka hindi niyo na ako kausap ngayon," Reyes explained.
Asked to comment on Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque's support for the Ombudsman's move, Reyes said he sees conflict of interest in the Palace official's pronouncement.
"Meron po yatang conflict of interest 'yun dahil 'yung kaniyang position can easily sway the judiciary at iba pang ahensya ng pamahalaan," the ex-governor said of Roque, who was once counsel for the Ortega family.
During the proceedings, Reyes was seen holding a rosary. He said he was praying that "justice will be served."
Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice and 3rd Division Chair Amparo Cabotaje-Tang gave Reyes until Monday to submit a written opposition to the prosecution's motion.
Reyes has a pending appeal on his Sandiganbayan conviction and earlier paid a P60,000 bail.
Aside from the mining permits case, Reyes also has pending graft cases at the Sandiganbayan involving Malampaya funds. -- with reports from Joyce Balancio, ABS-CBN News