CA clears Palawan ex-guv in Ortega slay case-A A +A
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
MANILA (Updated) -- Former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes, prime suspect in the murder of radio commentator Gerry Ortega in January 2011, has been absolved by the Court of Appeals for failure of the Department of Justice to observe due process.
In a decision written by Associate Justice Angelita Gacutan of the CA Special 10th Division, the five-man group said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima erred when she constituted another panel to review the original findings that actually cleared the former governor and his brother Coron, Palawan Mayor Mario Reyes of the crime.
The decision mouthed similar points raised by the CA Special 5th Division last November, which junked the murder case against Mario.
“In retrospect, public respondent (De Lima) should have adhered to the rules that her own department promulgated and followed strictly the same, which was a roadmap for all concerned to follow who are confronted with cases before the Department of Justice, particularly in appealing resolutions of the prosecutors,” the CA said.
“She should have acted on the petition for review ad cautelam filed by private respondent (Joel Reyes) and should not have allowed the second panel of prosecutors to proceed with its task considering further that the promulgation of Department Order No. 710 is legally infirm to begin with,” the decision stated.
De Lima ordered a reinvestigation on September 7, 2011 in light of fresh evidence presented by Ortega’s wife, Patria, against the former Palawan governor.
Through Department Order 710, a new panel was formed to handle the case composed of Assistant State Prosecutors Stewart Allan Mariano, Vimar Barcellano and Gerard Gaerlan.
That panel, which has been nullified by the CA, filed the murder charges against the Reyes brothers before the Puerto Princesa Regional Trial Court branch 52. Arrest warrants were then issued on March 27, 2012 but the brothers have since gone into hiding overseas.
“We find no legal basis for the second panel of prosecutors to modify the finding of the first panel of prosecutors. It must be remembered that the first panel and second panel of prosecutors are co-equals. As such, both of them are on the same level and one cannot modify the resolution of the other. It will have to be their superior, in this case, the Public Respondent Secretary of Justice who can, consistent with the rules, modify, affirm or reverse the finding of either of them,” the CA said.
Reyes’ counsel Ferdinand Topacio welcomed the CA decision, calling it a “great day" for the rule of law.
"The looming legal battle ahead is still formidable, but we are confident that with the efforts of our legal team...the truth will prevail, and true justice will be done," he said.
A lone gunman shot Ortega in the head on January 24, 2011 while he was shopping in a used-clothes store in Puerto Princesa City.
A Senate investigation early this year said Ortega’s death could be linked to his reports on alleged irregularities in the bidding out and awarding of mining concessions in Palawan as well as alleged misuse of public funds coming from the Malampaya gas project. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)