Manhunt ongoing for murder suspect Joel Reyes

There is an ongoing manhunt for former Palawan governor Joel Reyes who is wanted for the 2011 murder of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerry Ortega, the Philippine National Police (PNP) confirmed.

"The manhunt operation is ongoing," PNP chief General Guillermo Eleazar told Rappler on Sunday, October 3, sending us a report from the director of PNP Region IV-B.

The report bares efforts to locate Reyes even outside Palawan, but the rest of the content we will not disclose in order not to compromise the operation.

Reyes has "gone home to Palawan," his spokesperson Boy Bonoan earlier told Rappler, after being released from prison over a graft conviction "earlier this year."

Bonoan said Reyes will run for governor of Palawan for the 2022 elections.

There is a warrant of arrest for Reyes over the Ortega murder case issued by the Puerto Princesa Regional Trial Court (RTC), as ordered by the Court of Appeals (CA) in 2019.

The cause for Reyes' release over the graft conviction is unclear.

Reyes was committed to jail in January 2018 by the Sandiganbayan for a graft conviction with a six to eight year sentence. Although a graft conviction will not immediately send a person to jail without a final judgment from the Supreme Court, the Sandiganbayan revoked Reyes' post-conviction bail because of flight risk.

Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang said they did not order Reyes' release, saying the case is now under jurisdiction of the Supreme Court because of the appeal. We have asked the Supreme Court, and will update this story once they respond.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) earlier confirmed Reyes is no longer in the facility, while the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) has no record for him.

This is the second time that Reyes has evaded the warrant for the Ortega murder case, first doing so in 2012 after an indictment by the Department of Justice. He and his brother Mario, former Coron mayor, were caught in Thailand in 2015.

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.

Reyes' graft conviction is over a mining permit in Puerto Princesa, as he faces a separate charge of graft over the Malampaya fund scam.

Profits from oil and gas operations in the waters off Palawan go to the Malampaya fund. In October 2009, then-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued an executive order expanding the use of the fund for other purposes, even outside Palawan. Reyes' charges involved taking Malampaya funds to award projects to construction firms without following the proper process. – 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.

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