Media group to gov’t: Arrest ex-governor

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The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines chides government officials for giving Joel Reyes time to surrender

MANILA, Philippines – Journalists on Friday, March 30, criticized the government for giving a fugitive politician charged with murder time to surrender instead of ordering his immediate arrest.

A court has issued a warrant of arrest against ex-Palawan Gov Joel Reyes and 7 others for the murder of broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega. Police arrested the ex-governor’s aide in Palawan on Tuesday, March 27, but the rest remain at large.

They are not allowed to post bail.

Reyes himself has gone on a media campaign to proclaim his innocence, sending statements to media organizations to say he has no plans of surrendering.

What made matters worse was a statement by Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo who was quoted as saying he was giving Reyes and his brother Mario Jr., mayor of the town of Colon in Palawan, until the weekend to surrender.

Asked about this, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said: “Well, it’s only, it’s what? Friday…It’s maybe out of deference for his being a former governor and hopefully that as a government official he will be responsible enough to face the courts and surrender voluntarily. But once he fails to show up on the weekend then we will enforce the warrant of arrest.”

This angered the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, which accused the government of abetting impunity.

“No, it does not matter that Palace mouthpiece Edwin Lacierda abruptly turned about a few hours later and declared the manhunt for the Reyes brothers on after learning that Robredo had issued a similar order after receiving a copy of the warrant on Thursday,” the NUJP said in a statement. “The issue here is how the administration so readily stood by Robredo’s clearly illegal original decision to grant the Reyes brothers a grace period instead of doing what he is sworn to do –order their immediate arrest, no ifs or buts.”

Lacierda later explained to reporters that Robredo issued that statement “before they received the warrant of arrest” against Reyes. He added that the Department of the Interior and Local Government teams are “investigating the leads on Gov. Reyes’ whereabouts.”

Reyes is a longtime ally of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He ran for congress in 2010.

The Ortega murder case was initially dismissed by the justice department in June 2011, but following protests and an appeal by the Ortega family, a new set of prosecutors reviewed the case and later filed murder charges against the 8.

Probers have said that the handgun used in the Ortega killing was registered in the name of Reyes’s detained aide. The former governor was supposed to have been the mastermind and funder of the operation to kill Ortega, a fierce critic.

“How can Malacañang explain this ‘deference’ for a former governor, which contrasts so glaringly with the zeal it has displayed in going after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a former president no less, and to Renato Corona, the incumbent Chief Justice?” asked the NUJP in its statement. –

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