CA orders release of ex-Palawan governor suspect in Gerry Ortega slay

Joel Reyes (right), former Palawan governor, and younger sibling Mario (left), former Coron mayor, were accused of masterminding the murder of environmentalist-broadcaster Gerardo Ortega four years ago. AP/File photo

CA orders release of ex-Palawan governor suspect in Gerry Ortega slay
( - January 6, 2018 - 6:42pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals has ordered the release of former Palawan governor Mario Joel Reyes from detention due to lack of probable cause to arrest him over the murder of environmentalist-broadcaster Gerardo Ortega seven years ago.

In a 24-page decision, the appellate court granted Reyes’ petition that sought the nullification of arrest order issued by Puerto Princesa City Regional Trial Court Branch 52, which the petitioner said had no jurisdiction to try and decide on the criminal case against him.

Reyes had also posited in his petition that the trial court’s finding of probable cause to arrest him was “not supported by facts and circumstances on record,” which the CA ruled in the affirmative.

The CA said it found that RTC Branch 52 “committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess of jurisdiction” when it ruled that there was a probable cause to detain Reyes.

It also ordered the trial court to prohibit from further proceeding with the case.

The CA added that Reyes was “merely implicated” as a co-conspirator in the killing of Ortega by prosecution witness Rodolfo Edrad, whom the CA said was “not a credible and trustworthy witness.”

The appellate court also said the evidence presented was “not competent” to establish reasonable grounds that Reyes participated in the commission of the crime.

“Ostensibly, Respondent RTC heavily relied on the prosecution witnesses’ sworn statements. Such reliance, however, was misplaced,” the CA said.

“Our hands are tied by our bounded duty to administer justice and abide by the law. No evidence, no conviction. So be it,” it added.

“Call it a second chance afforded him by God, or a lucky three-point play for him to use a common street lingo or a miracle in his.”

Edrad, a former bodyguard of former Marinduque governor Jose Antonio Carreon, had confessed to putting together the hit team to kill Ortega, allegedly on orders of Reyes.

Ortega was gunned down in Palawan in January 2011 and police caught the hired gun fleeing the scene of the crime. The murder weapon was traced to a lawyer of Reyes. 

The CA’s decision was penned by Associate Justice Normandie Pizarro, who also wrote the 2017 decision reversing the ruling of a Makati City court on the serious illegal detention case against alleged pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.

Concurring were Associate Justices Danton Bueser, Victoria Isabel Paredes, Marie Christine Jacob and Maria Filomena Singh.

In a statement, Ortega's daughter Mika said her family was “still recovering from the shock” of the CA’s ruling.

“This decision comes a few weeks before the 7th year anniversary of Doc Gerry's murder. Seven years of fighting for justice and press freedom,” Mika said.

“We have not received the copy of the decision yet. We will need time with our lawyers to study it and plan our next move. Until then, we ask everyone to remain vigilant,” she added.

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