The Office of the Solicitor General has asked the Court of Appeals to overturn its earlier decision and instead order the rearrest of former Palawan governor Joel Reyes who was released from detention early this month after it cleared him of liability in the killing of broadcaster-turned-environmentalist Gerry Ortega seven years ago.
In filing the motion for reconsideration, Solicitor General Jose Calida argued that the CA’s Fourth Division committed an error when it ruled last Jan. 4 that the Puerto Princesa City Regional Trial Court, Branch 52, committed grave abuse of discretion in finding probable cause to issue the warrant of arrest against Reyes.
Calida argued that the RTC did not abuse its discretion when it issued the order, noting that the appellate court imposed its own standards of probable cause different from that required by law.
The chief state lawyer also appealed that the CA should reconsider giving weight to the testimony of prosecution witness, Rodolfo Edrad Jr. alias Bomar. Edrad is a former bodyguard of Reyes who was allegedly directed by the latter to form a team to kill Ortega.
“It bears repeating that the admissibility of evidence, their evidentiary weight, probative value and the credibility of witnesses are matters that are best left to be resolved in a full-blown trial. In finding no probable cause to arrest Reyes, the Court of Appeals unfortunately conducted a fragmented analysis of the evidence before it, isolating each piece of evidence and concluding that it alone does not prove probable cause,” the Solicitor General said.
Calida added that the CA also erred when it considered all these evidentiary matters and then resorted to calibration of rules of evidence in determining the existence of probable cause.
“In order to determine the existence of probable cause, it suffices that it is belied that the act or omission complained of constitutes the very offense a respondent is charged,” Calida said.
The Solicitor General argued that the CA failed to consider a ruling of the Supreme Court on the case in 2016 when it ruled that Edrad’s testimony is already considered a judicial admission that is admissible in evidence against those it implicates.
The OSG also pointed out that the SC also said that the RTC had already acquired jurisdiction on the case and had even made its determination of probable cause against Reyes.
“It was grave error for this Honorable Court to dismiss the present case. It made the brazen declaration “no evidence, no conviction” in its Jan. 4, 2018 ruling. This conclusion is clearly premature. It bears repeating that the absence or presence of conspiracy is factual in nature and involves evidentiary matters for trial,” Calida argued
Calida said the CA decision eroded the faith and trust of the public reposed in the CA to render a decision that is just and fair.
The Solicitor General also insisted that Reyes was a flight risk, citing the fact that the former governor and his brother, former Coron town mayor, Mario Reyes, had fled the country after a warrant of arrest was issued against them.
They were arrested by the Thai police and returned to Manila in September 2015.
“His flight from the country is a strong indication of his guilt that should have been taken into consideration by this Honorable Court,” Calida said.
Calida also cited the dissenting opinions of Associate Justices Marie Christine Azcarraga-Jacob and Maria Filomena Singh who argued that the testimonies of prosecution witnesses Dennis Aranas and gunman Marlon Racamata indicated that Reyes masterminded the murder of Ortega.
Aranas was a member of the hit team while Recamata was the one who shot Ortega in Puerto Princesa city.
Recamata told authorities that the Reyes brothers wanted Ortega dead because of his criticism against the former governor in his radio program.
"Bumar's testimony is also replete with details that only a participant in the crime, and someone close to the petitioner, could have known. This, in conjunction with the statements of other participants, serves to strengthen Bumar's credibility, which includes his unwavering certitude that petitioner masterminded the murder of Dr. Gerry Ortega and set it in motion," Calida said.
Besides, the OSG said the motion does not violate Reyes’ right against double jeopardy since the dismissal of the case against the former governor was done after he had sought the same by initially filing a motion with the RTC and by subsequently filing the petition with the appellate court.
Double jeopardy refers to the legal doctrine that prohibits the filing of the same criminal case against the same accused already cleared by the court.
Calida said there is also no showing that Reyes’ rights to a speedy trial was violated by the RTC or that a demurrer to evidence was granted.
Earlier, Malacañang through Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque described the CA ruling a travesty of justice and a sad development on freedom of the press in the country.