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MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) 1st Division, in a resolution made public on Sunday, July 16, ordered the rearrest of former Palawan governor Joel Reyes over the killing of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega in 2011.
The SC also ordered Puerto Princesa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 52 in Palawan to continue with the case proceedings.
The resolution was in response to Reyes’ petition that asked the SC to reverse a 2019 decision and 2021 resolution by the Court of Appeals (CA).
In its ruling, the SC said the CA, like the RTC, found sufficient evidence to support the finding of probable cause against Reyes. These include suspects’ statements implicating Reyes in Ortega’s killing.
“Unfortunately for petitioner, the record thus far shows that the RTC acted well within its jurisdiction. This, in turn, belies petitioner’s claim that the CA committed reversible error in sustaining the trial court’s decision to proceed with the criminal trial,” the SC added.
In a statement, the Ortega family said it welcomed the SC’s resolution.
“Our family is thankful that the Supreme Court sided with truth and justice. We have long hoped and prayed for the trial to continue. This fair decision restores our faith that, one day, we will find justice.”
In 2022, Reyes again ran in the Palawan gubernatorial race. He lost by a substantial margin, and eight months after the polls, the Commission on Elections disqualified him for evading prosecution in the Ortega case by going into hiding for three years.
What happened before
In 2011, Ortega, a veterinarian and anchor of various radio shows in Palawan, was gunned down. The gunman was immediately captured by the police, and implicated several others.
Patria Gloria Inocencio-Ortega, the slain broadcaster’s wife, filed an affidavit-complaint and implicated Reyes. However, the first panel of prosecutors dismissed the complaint due to insufficiency of evidence.
A second panel of Department of Justice prosecutors was then created to conduct a preliminary investigation into the allegations against Reyes. The former governor went to the CA to assail the creation of this panel.
The second panel later issued a resolution in March 2012, finding probable cause against Reyes and recommending the filing of criminal charges. But the CA’s Special 10th Division of Five ruled in favor of Reyes, voiding the creation of the second panel and reinstating the first panel’s resolution, which initially dismissed the case. (READ: TIMELINE: Gerry Ortega murder case)
Reyes filed a motion with the RTC and sought the immediate implementation of the CA’s decision, including the recall of his arrest warrant. But the RTC denied Reyes’ petition on the ground that the CA decision “did not tackle the issue regarding probable cause and issuance of warrant of arrest.”
Fast forward to 2018, the Office of the Solicitor General filed a motion for reconsideration with the CA, asking the appellate court “to take a second look into the existence of probable cause for the issuance of a warrant of arrest” against Reyes. The OSG serves as the state’s primary legal counsel.
On November 28, 2019, the CA granted the OSG’s motion. Reyes then filed a petition for review on certiorari – a remedy used to review a decision of another court – with the SC. – Rappler.com