CA reinstates murder charge vs. former Palawan governor

By Rey Panaligan

The Court of Appeals (CA) has reversed its 2018 decision as it ordered the reinstatement of the murder charge against former Palawan governor Mario Joel T. Reyes for the death in 2011 of environmentalist and radio broadcaster Dr. Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega.

Court of Appeals (MANILA BULLETIN) Court of Appeals (MANILA BULLETIN)

In an amended decision written by Associate Justice Marie Christine Azcarraga Jacob, the CA also directed the Puerto Princesa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) to order Reyes’ arrest.

The CA’s amended decision reversed its January 2018 ruling which dismissed the murder case filed against Reyes and ordered his release.

Reyes and his brother, former Coron town mayor Mario T. Reyes, were charged with murder for the death of Ortega. Eight other persons were also charged in court.

The Reyes brothers slipped out of the country in early 2012 before an arrest order could be issued against them by the trial court on March 27, 2012.

They were arrested in Phuket, Thailand in October 2015, brought back to the Philippines, and ordered detained in Puerto Princesa City.

The CA’s January 2018 ruling, written by the now retired Associate Justice Normandie Pizarro, led to the release of the former governor of Palawan.

In 2016, the Supreme Court (SC) had ordered the Puerto Princesa City RTC to proceed with the trial of Joel T. Reyes.

In a decision written by Justice Mario Victor “Marvic” F. Leonen, the SC ruled that “once the information (criminal charge sheet) is filed in court, the court acquires the jurisdiction of the case, and any motion to dismiss the case to determine the accused’s guilt or innocence rests within the sound discretion of the court.”

The SC pointed out that “it would be more prudent to refrain from entertaining the petition considering that the trial court already issued a warrant of arrest against respondent.”

The issuance of the warrant “signifies that the trial court has made an independent determination of the existence of probable cause,” it said.

In the CA’s amended decision, the appellate court said the RTC judge complied with his constitutional duty to personally determine probable cause and there was enough evidence on record to support the trial court’s finding.

“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 (Joel T. Reyes’) 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,” it said.

Noting the Reyes brothers’ decision to fly to Thailand before the warrants of arrest were issued, the court pointed out that “flight is said to be indicative of guilt.”