2022 Philippine Elections

Convicted and with warrant, a free Joel Reyes will run for Palawan gov

Lian Buan

FREE AGAIN. Former governor Joel Reyes is released early 2021 and will run again for Palawan governor, according to his spokesperson.

File photo

(1st UPDATE) BJMP confirms Joel Reyes, a suspect in the murder of broadcaster Gerry Ortega, is no longer in their facility

Convicted for graft and with an arrest warrant for murder, the embattled Joel Reyes is free and will attempt to regain his old post of Palawan governor in the 2022 elections, says his spokesperson Boy Bonoan.

“Yes, I confirm that former governor Joel Reyes will run for governor of Palawan this 2022 elections,” Bonoan told Rappler in a phone interview Saturday, October 2.

Bonoan said Reyes was “released early this year.” They have yet to finalize the schedule to file his certificate of candidacy (COC), said Bonoan. They have until October 8.

“He has gone home to Palawan,” said Bonoan in Filipino.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) confirmed Reyes is no longer in the facility. “I checked, he is not with us anymore,” BJMP spokesperson Xavier Solda told Rappler on Saturday.

Reyes returned to jail in 2018 over a graft conviction, where he was sentenced by the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan to six to eight years in prison. By December 2019, the Court of Appeals had ordered an arrest warrant against him over the murder of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerry Ortega.

Bonoan said there was indeed a standing warrant against Reyes, but they had filed a motion to quash before the Puerto Princesa court, and two petitions in the Supreme Court – both to challenge the arrest warrant for murder and to appeal the graft conviction.

“I believe the prosecutor (in the murder case) had been asked to answer to our motion to quash,” said Bonoan.

It was unclear why Reyes was able to evade a standing warrant.

How did this happen?

Graft is a bailable offense. Ordinarily, when someone is convicted for graft, he or she is able to remain free until and unless the Supreme Court finalizes the judgment, as in other bailable cases. It’s only for non-bailable cases where the person is detained upon arrest until conviction, notwithstanding if it’s not yet final.

But because Reyes went into hiding for three years to evade the Ortega murder warrant, and was hunted and caught in Thailand in 2015, Ombudsman prosecutors asked Sandiganbayan to revoke his post-conviction bail and commit him to jail, citing flight risk.

The Sandiganbayan agreed and committed Reyes to the Quezon City jail annex inside Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City in January 2018. He was convicted August 2017 over the anomalous issuance of a mining permit in Puerto Princesa.

At that time, Reyes had been free for three weeks because the Court of Appeals (CA) had cleared him of the Ortega murder case. Nevertheless, he still went to jail for graft.

In December 2019, a different composition of the CA division reversed the earlier decision and ordered the Puerto Princesa court to issue an arrest warrant against Reyes for the Ortega murder. This is the standing warrant against Reyes.

Ortega exposed corruption in Palawan and accused Reyes, the former governor, of misusing the Malampaya fund, sourced from operations of the Malampaya gas and oil fields off the coast of the province.

This had been a protracted case and trial is yet to ensue, ten years since Ortega was killed in 2011.

The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) said it has no record for Joel Reyes.

“He’s not committed to the BuCor. We have ten names in our database but there’s no Joel T. Reyes,” BuCor spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag told Rappler Saturday.

It’s unclear why BuCor would have no record of Reyes, when the bureau is in charge of inmates sentenced to more than three years, like Reyes is.

Chaclag said Reyes wasn’t committed to a BuCor facility, but a BJMP facility.

When Rappler asked Friday about Reyes, Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar said “he is still at Bicutan BJMP Complex, Camp Bagong Diwa as per BJMP Operations office. He is at the Metro Manila District Jail Annex.” BuCor is under the Department of Justice, and Villar was relaying information from Chaclag.

Told of Bonoan’s information that Reyes is in Palawan, and Solda’s confirmation that he’s no longer under BJMP facility, Chaclag said Saturday: “Nagtanong ako sa BJMP kahapon at sabi ng officer na kausap ko ay nasa Quezon City jail annex daw. Pero nag inform siya kanina na wala nga po raw sa kanila. They are a different agency.”

(I asked BJMP yesterday and according to the officer I spoke to, Reyes was at the Quezon City Jail annex. But he informed me earlier that Reyes is no longer with them. They are a different agency.)

BuCor is in charge of convicted prisoners, while BJMP is in charge of prisoners detained while on trial.

Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, who also chairs the division that ordered to arrest Reyes, said they did not issue a release order.

“We did not issue any release order and we cannot issue one because our decision is on appeal with the Supreme Court. Hence, the Sandiganbayan has no more jurisdiction over the case,” Tang told Rappler.

Bonoan said Reyes might have potentially earned merits to earn a reduced sentence for graft. “They discovered he had lapsed his period of detention,” said Bonoan.

This is covered by many rules, but BuCor and BJMP were not immediately able to confirm the cause of his release for the graft conviction.

Another issue is when Sandiganbayan convicted him of graft, Reyes was also perpetually disqualifed from holding public office. The election code only disqualifies a person from running if he has been sentenced by final judgment, but in Reyes’ case, he is appealing before the Supreme Court. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.