2022 PH local races

Comelec disqualifies defeated 2022 Palawan gubernatorial bet Joel Reyes

Dwight de Leon
Comelec disqualifies defeated 2022 Palawan gubernatorial bet Joel Reyes

Rappler

(1ST UPDATE) The poll body says that Joel Reyes – a murder suspect with an arrest warrant – evaded prosecution, making him ineligible for the Palawan gubernatorial race where he garnered over 147,000 votes

MANILA, Philippines – Eight months after the May 2022 polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) disqualified Joel Reyes from the Palawan gubernatorial race that he had lost by a substantial margin.

The three-member 2nd Division of the poll body said that Reyes – a murder suspect with an arrest warrant – evaded prosecution, making him ineligible for the local race that saw him garner more than 147,000 votes.

The Comelec explained that the case did not deserve to be declared moot just because Reyes suffered an electoral loss, because there was a “justiciable issue” at hand.

Reyes can still file an appeal with the Comelec en banc, which will allow four other commissioners to weigh in on the case.

What happened

Reyes, who once Palawan governor, sought to reclaim his old post in the 2022 elections, despite his 2017 graft conviction and standing arrest warrant for the 2011 murder of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerry Ortega.

Reyes was sent to jail in 2018 over the anomalous issuance of a mining permit in Puerto Princesa. While graft is a bailable offense, Sandiganbayan revoked the post-conviction bail after prosecutors argued that Reyes previously went into hiding for three years to avoid the arrest warrant for the Ortega murder case.

In deciding, the Comelec said it “cannot turn a blind eye” to the fact that Reyes once evaded arrest, regardless of his successful attempt to secure a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court later on.

(Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said Ortega evaded arrest. It was actually Reyes who once evaded arrest. This has been corrected.)

The poll body cited Section 40 of the Local Government Code, which states that fugitives from justice are disqualified from running for any elective local post.

“Intent to evade is a material element to constitute flight from justice. In this case, [Reyes] knew of the indictment filed against him, yet he failed to submit to the jurisdiction of the courts or surrendered voluntarily to the authorities during the implementation of the warrant of arrest against him,” read the resolution released on Thursday, January 5.

“In no stretch of the imagination can the temporary restraining order issued in favor of [Reyes] be tantamount to a voluntary surrender,” it added.

The Comelec, however, pointed out that Reyes’ graft conviction from the Sandiganbayan – which came with it the penalty of perpetual disqualification from public office – has yet to attain finality, so he was not disqualified on such a basis.

The ruling was signed by commissioners Marlon Casquejo, Rey Bulay, and Nelson Celis.

In the May gubernatorial poll, then-vice governor Dennis Socrates warded off Reyes’ potential political comeback, obtaining over 190,000 votes to win the race.

Reyes was first indicted in 2011 for the murder of Ortega, a broadcaster who exposed the corruption in Palawan and tagged the embattled politician in it.

The Court of Appeals in 2012 nullified the justice department’s findings that linked Reyes and his brothers to Ortega’s killing, but a new composition of the appellate court in 2019 reversed the earlier decision and issued an arrest warrant against the former governor.

The High Court, however, issued an order in April 2022 that temporarily prevented authorities from serving the arrest warrant against Reyes. – Rappler.com

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers the House of Representatives and the Commission on Elections for Rappler. Previously, he wrote stories on local government units.