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Ortega case still open, US media group says

THE New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has urged the Aquino administration to find and arrest the masterminds in the killing of Palawan broadcaster Gerardo Ortega although a Palawan court had already convicted a man who admitted being the gunman. “We have seen this before in the Philippines,” CPJ Asia program director Bob Dietz said in a statement posted in the group’s website. “Low-level hit men are tried and sentenced, while powerful political figures remain outside the grasp of the law.” “Everyone’s eyes are wide open to that fact that Gerardo Ortega’s case is far from being closed. CPJ joins with the Ortega family in calling on the government of President Benigno Aquino to bring real and complete justice in this case,” Dietz added. The group noted that the confessed gunman, Marlon Recamata, has been sentenced to life imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to Ortega’s February 2011 killing, but it also assailed developments that appeared to show that the mastermind was to be left unprosecuted. The CPJ reiterated that Recamata’s accomplice, Rodolfo Edrad, identified ex-Palawan governor Joel Reyes and his brother Marjo Reyes, former mayor of a small resort town, had purportedly ordered the murder in retaliation for Ortega’s reporting on local mining operations. The group lamented that the Court of Appeals has “blocked efforts by the Department of Justice to arrest the Reyeses, saying the department was over-reaching.” But the Department of Justice is appealing the appelate court’s ruling with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima maintaining that the CA ruling only cited procedural lapses and did not really clear the Reyeses of liability in the case. The Court of Appeals cleared Joel from the charges, citing procedural lapses on De Lima’s part. It said instead of creating a second panel, De Lima, as prescribed by DOJ rules of procedures, should have acted first on the pending petition for review filed with the first panel by the victim’s family. The first prosecutorial panel, headed by State Prosecutor Edwin Dayog, cleared the Reyes brothers and four other suspects for insufficiency of evidence in a June 8, 2011 resolution, but De Lima created a second panel that eventually reversed the findings of the first panel after receiving additional evidence. De Lima said the CA ruling on Joel’s case only refers to the legality of the second panel that investigated him, and that it did not nullify the arrest warrant issued by a Palawan Regional Trial Court. De Lima had said the DOJ will elevate Mario’s case to the Supreme Court, while they would seek a reconsideration of the appellate court’s ruling on Joel’s case. “The Reyeses are still fugitives from justice and they will be arrested,” De Lima had said.
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