CA affirms verdict clearing Reyes in Ortega slay case
MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - The Court of Appeals has affirmed its earlier decision clearing former Palawan Gov Joel Reyes of charges he was behind the 2011 killing of broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega.
Voting 3-2, the CA rejected Justice Secretary Leila de Lima's appeal for the court to reverse a ruling it issued in March this year junking the murder case against Reyes.
The six-page resolution written by Justice Angelita Gacutan said that in recommending Reyes' indictment, De Lima failed to observe proper procedural protocol governing investigations of cases.
Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Fernanda Lampas-Peralta and Francisco Acosta. The dissenters were Associate Justices Noel Tijam and Noel Barza, who voted to grant De Lima's appeal. (Editor's note: We earlier reported that the voting was 4-1. We regret the error)
The court earlier nullified De Lima’s Department Order No. 710 which created the second panel that reviewed and eventually found probable cause to indict the Reyes brothers for murder.
READ: Court junks murder raps vs Reyes
It reinstated the resolution of the first panel of prosecutors panel headed by State Prosecutor Edwin Dayog that cleared Reyes and his brother Mario of murder complaints.
It was in November 2012 when the CA first nullified the second panel created by De Lima.
The Reyes brothers are accused of plotting the murder of Ortega, who exposed corruption in the province and accused the former governor of misusing the Malampaya Fund.
In her motion for reconsideration, De Lima said the CA decision was “erroneous" and that the court “grossly misappreciated” the facts of the case. She maintained that D.O No. 710 is valid since she issued it even before any of the parties filed a petition for review.
She added that law and jurisprudence recognize the authority of the Secretary of Justice to appoint a prosecutor to conduct a reinvestigation.
De Lima also told the court that the second panel of prosecutors did not exceed their authority when they recommended the filing of information against Reyes.
The CA stood firm. “We stress anew that our decision has not clipped any power of the Secretary of Justice to review the finding of any prosecutor but that power should be used by observing proper procedural protocols in accord with the Rules governing investigations."
“In the case at bench, there was already a ‘petition by the proper party,’ creating the occasion for the exercise of such power by the Secretary of Justice but the latter did not,” it added.
“The Secretary of Justice can review the decision of the first panel of prosecutors without the need for creating the second panel of prosecutors,” the CA declared.
The CA also did not give credence to De Lima’s claim that the second panel was created “to prevent miscarriage of justice,” claiming that neither party was deprived of their constitutional rights during the preliminary investigation by the first panel.
The CA observed that the additional evidence presented before the second panel was more of “forgotten evidence” than “newly-discovered evidence" and thus would not warrant the reopening of the case.
These pieces of “forgotten evidence,” according to the CA, were already available during the preliminary investigation of the first panel but which the Ortega camp failed to present.
“We believe that the failure to present such ‘forgotten evidence’ is not [grounds] for reopening or new trial…The prosecutory arm of the state cannot be allowed to be conducting one investigation after another until the desired end is achieved, lest, it may be perceived as a persecution rather than a criminal investigation,” the CA said.
Atty Ferdinand Topacio, lead counsel for the Reyeses, said the ruling "proves that the truth cannot be hidden for so long," and said the DOJ is being used by the government to "secure the imprisonment of those [the administration] targets for elimination."
Meanwhile, the Ortega family remains "unfazed" by the ruling.
"We will continue our pursuit of justice for the murder of Dr. Gerry Ortega all the way up to the Supreme Court," a statement from Alex Avisado, counsel for the Ortega family, said.
"Now that it has been shown that Doc Gerry Ortega was killed because of his expose on the plunder of Malampaya funds, it would be a travesty and an injustice to let the masterminds ex Gov Joel Reyes and Mayor Marjo Reyes go free. We still believe that in the end, justice will only be for the deserving," the statement read.
The DOJ will elevate the case to the SC, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.
Ortega was shot dead in January 2011 in Puerto Princesa. The Reyes brothers went into hiding after warrants of arrest were issued against them. - Rappler.com