The Court of Appeals has ordered the reinstatement of the murder charge against former Palawan governor Mario Joel Reyes, in connection with the killing of broadcaster-environmentalist Gerry Ortega in 2011.
In an amended decision dated Nov. 28, the CA’s Special Former Eleventh Division also enjoined the Puerto Princesa Regional Trial Court Branch 52 to issue a warrant of arrest against Reyes.
The appellate court reversed its January 2018 ruling, which junked the murder case against Reyes and ordered his release.
Instead, the CA upheld the ruling of the Puerto Princesa RTC Branch 52, denying the plea of Reyes to suspend the proceedings, and sustained the validity of the warrant of arrest it issued against the former governor.
Reyes has been charged with murder along with his brother, former Coron town mayor Mario Reyes, and eight others for the death of Ortega.
A known critic of Reyes, Ortega was gunned down in front of a thrift store in Puerto Princesa on Jan. 24, 2011.
The lower court ordered his arrest in March 2012, but Reyes moved to suspend the murder case and recall the warrant of arrest.
This prompted Reyes to assail the RTC ruling before the CA, citing trial court’s reliance on the “uncorroborated statement” of witness Rodolfo “Bumar” Edrad, his bodyguard.
In its amended resolution, the appellate court held that the RTC complied with its constitutional duty for the judge to personally determine probable cause, and there was enough evidence on record to support the court’s finding.
Aside from Edrad’s affidavit, the CA cited the sworn statements of Arwin Arandia, who claimed to have been initially hired by Edrad to kill Ortega; and Dennis Aranas and Marlon Recamata, who also confessed to being paid to kill Ortega. Recamata was convicted in 2013.
The CA cited a Supreme Court ruling which said that once the existence of probable cause has been judicially determined, a petition for certiorari—the remedy Reyes resorted to—is considered moot.
“The Court cannot also ignore the other circumstances that transpired after the filing of the petition. The conviction of Marlon Recamata and Arturo Regalado, petitioner’s co-accused, and the denial of petitioner’s bail application on account of strong evidence of guilt, all the more demonstrate the existence of probable cause and consequently reinforce the necessity of issuing a warrant of arrest against him,” the appellate court stressed.
The CA noted Reyes and his brothers’ decision to fly to Thailand before the warrants of arrest were issued, saying “flight is said to be indicative of guilt.”
They were arrested and deported only in 2015.