OSG asks SC to lift TRO issued against arrest of ex-Palawan Gov. Reyes on murder charge

Office of the Solicitor General

The Supreme Court has been asked to lift its March 23, 2022 temporary restraining order (TRO) that stopped the Puerto Princesa City regional trial court (RTC) from enforcing its warrant of arrest against former Palawan Gov. Mario Joel Reyes who, together with his brother and eight other persons, was charged with murder in the death of environmentalist and broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega in 2011.

The plea was contained in a comment filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) which had asked the SC to dismiss Reyes’ petition challenging the amended Court of Appeals (CA) ruling that found probable cause to charge him in the Ortega killing.

The CA’s amended ruling also upheld the validity of the arrest order issued by the RTC.

In its comment, the OSG said: “Respondent People of the Philippines most respectfully prays that this Honorable Court: lift the temporary restraining order enjoining the , Branch 52, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan from implementing a warrant of arrest against petitioner (Reyes) and from conducting further proceedings in Criminal Case No. 26839.”

It then pleaded that once the TRO is lifted, the SC should “order the immediate re-arrest and detention” of Reyes pending final trial and resolution of the murder charges filed against him.

The OSG’s comment was sought in the March 23, 2022 resolution which granted Reyes’ motion for reconsideration.

On June 14, 2021, Reyes’ petition was dismissed by the SC’s first division “for failure of the petitioner to sufficiently show that the Court of Appeals committed any reversible error in the challenged amended decision and resolution as to warrant the exercise of this Court’s discretionary appellate jurisdiction.”

But the SC reversed itself, granted Reyes’ motion for reconsideration, and issued a TRO against his arrest.

In its comment, the OSG said that Reyes was not entitled to a TRO or a writ of preliminary injunction because he was not denied his constitutional right in the proceedings before the trial court and the CA.

“A TRO or a writ of preliminary injunction may be issued upon the concurrence of the following essential requisites, to wit: invasion of the right sought to be protected is material and substantial; the right of the complainant is clear and unmistakable; and there is an urgent and paramount necessity for the writ to prevent serious damage,” the OSG said.

“As an accused charged before the trial court, there is no dispute that petitioner has the constitutional right to due process. However, petitioner’s right to due process has not been violated nor will it be violated by his re-arrest and by the continued prosecution of (his) criminal case,” it pointed out.

“The RTC’s finding of strong evidence of petitioner’s guilt has, in turn, been affirmed by the Court of Appeals in its decision dated July 9, 2021. With due respect to this Honorable Court, these consistent findings by the RTC and the Court of Appeals superseded and mooted the issue of probable cause,” it stressed.

It also told the SC that the CA in its amended decision “correctly found that there was probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest against petitioner” and pointed out that to establish probable cause, “it is enough that it is believed that the act or omission complained of constitutes the offense charged.”

“Clearly, from the perspective of a ‘reasonably discreet and prudent man,’ there was sufficient ground to find probable cause and order the arrest of petitioner. This is precisely what the RTC judge did, as the Constitution merely requires him to personally determine the existence of probable to issue a warrant of arrest and thereafter hold the accused for trial. It does not yet require the judge to evaluate whether the evidence on record is sufficient for conviction,” the OSG added.

At the same time, the OSG noted events that transpired after the issuance of an arrest order against Reyes. Among the event cited were Reyes’ flight to Thailand where he was eventually apprehended and from where he was deported back to the Philippines sometime in September 2015; the conviction of Marlon Recamata on April 17, 2013 for the murder of Dr. Ortega in Criminal Case No. 25727; and the RTC’s denial on Sept. 8, 2016 of petitioner’s Application Ad Cautelam for Admission to Bail.

“The Sept. 8, 2016 Order of the RTC denying petitioner’s bail application... superseded the issue of probable cause in the present petition. Notably, the RTC already made a judicious evaluation of the evidence presented before it, and concluded that such evidence was strong enough to keep petitioner detained pending a final and executory judgment,” it said.

“All told, petitioners cannot make out a case for grave abuse of discretion against public respondent. The RTC’s adherence to the jurisprudential parameters for the determination of probable cause is clear. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals did not commit a reversible error when it upheld the RTC’s finding of probable cause and directive to issue warrant of arrest against petitioner,” it added.