SC: Murder trial of Palawan ex-governor can proceed

PALAWAN, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) ordered the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Palawan to proceed with the trial of former governor Mario Joel Reyes in connection with the murder of broadcast journalist and environment activist Dr Gerardo “Doc Gerry” Ortega.

Ortega used a radio show he hosted to frequently accuse Reyes and his brother, former Coron mayor Mario Reyes, of massive graft. Ortega accused the former governor of misusing the Malampaya fund, sourced from operations of the Malampaya gas and oil fields off the coast of the province.

In 2011, Ortega was shot in the head at point-blank range while shopping in Puerto Princesa, capital of Palawan – known as the country's last environmental frontier – but which has suffered from illegal logging, mining, and overfishing.

The SC’s Second Division dismissed for being moot the petition filed by then justice secretary Leila de Lima which sought to set aside a Court of Appeals (CA) ruling that declared null and void the creation by the justice department of a second panel to probe into the murder of Ortega.

The CA sided with Reyes who charged De Lima with grave abuse of discretion when she created the second panel after the first panel refused to take additional evidence believed to be crucial in determining probable cause.

The decision said De Lima’s petition was rendered moot “by the issuance of the warrant of arrest and the conduct of arraignment.”

Because Branch 52 of the Palawan RTC already issued an arrest warrant on March 27, 2012 against Reyes and his co-accused, it would be prudent for the SC to no longer entertain the petition of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

'Probable cause'

After the information is filed in court, it acquires jurisdiction over the case and any motion to dismiss the case to determine guilt or innocence rests on “the sound discretion of the court,” the SC said.

The ruling further said that the Palawan RTC has determined that “probable cause exists for the issuance of the warrant of arrest” against the respondent. As a result, jurisdiction has transferred to the RTC.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio, Associate Justices Arturo D. Brion, Mariano C. del Castillo, and Jose Catral Mendoza concurred in the decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.

The CA previously granted in March 2013 the petition of Reyes and reinstated the first resolution from the DOJ that cleared him and his brother of the murder charges.

The CA also said that De Lima should have reviewed the case herself rather than create another panel of investigators.

The Reyes brothers were arrested in September 2015 in Phuket, Thailand where they went into hiding after the issuance of arrest warrants against them. The two carried a P2-million bounty for their capture.

They remain detained at the Puerto Princesa city jail. – Rappler.com