CA reinstates murder charge vs ex-Palawan governor Reyes, orders arrest

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 20 2019 04:56 PM

Policemen escort Joel Reyes (2nd right) and his brother Mario Reyes (not shown) as they arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The two, wanted over the murder of environmentalist and journalist, Gerry Ortega, in 2011 were arrested in Thailand after more than three years on the run. Photo by Noel Celis, AFP

MANILA – The Court of Appeals (CA) has reinstated the murder charge against former Palawan governor Mario Joel Reyes over the death of broadcaster-environmentalist Gerry Ortega in 2011.

It has also ordered a Palawan court to issue a warrant of arrest against him.

The CA Special Former Eleventh Division, in an amended decision dated November 28, reversed its January 2018 ruling which had junked the murder case against Reyes and ordered his release.

Instead, it found that the Puerto Princesa Regional Trial Court Branch 52 was correct in refusing to suspend the proceedings and in standing by the arrest warrant it issued against Reyes.

Reyes was charged with murder along with his brother, former Coron town mayor Mario Reyes, and 8 others for the death of Ortega.

Ortega, a known critic of Reyes, was gunned down in front of a thrift store in Puerto Princesa on January 24, 2011.

The Puerto Princesa court issued a warrant of arrest in March 2012 but Reyes moved to suspend the murder case and recall the warrant of arrest. 

He later questioned before the CA the trial court’s reliance on the “uncorroborated statement” of witness Rodolfo “Bumar” Edrad, his bodyguard.

(The initial CA ruling granting Reyes’ plea was penned by retired CA Associate Justice Normandie Pizzaro, who was fined for confessing to gambling.)

In its latest ruling, the CA said the trial court complied with its constitutional duty for the judge to personally determine probable cause and there was enough evidence on record to support the court’s finding. 

Aside from Edrad’s affidavit, the CA cited the sworn statements of Arwin Arandia, who claimed to have been initially hired by Edrad to kill Ortega; and Dennis Aranas and Marlon Recamata who also confessed to being paid to kill Ortega. Recamata was convicted in 2013.

The Court cited a Supreme Court ruling which said that once the existence of probable cause has been judicially determined, a petition for certiorari, the remedy Reyes resorted to, is considered moot.

“The Court cannot also ignore the other circumstances that transpired after the filing of the petition. The conviction of Marlon Recamata and Arturo Regalado, petitioner’s co-accused, and the denial of petitioner’s bail application on account of strong evidence of guilt, all the more demonstrate the existence of probable cause and consequently reinforce the necessity of issuing a warrant of arrest against him,” it said.

The Court also noted Reyes and his brothers’ decision to fly to Thailand before the warrants of arrest were issued, noting that “flight is said to be indicative of guilt.” 

They were arrested and deported only in 2015.