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Philippines: Call for reversal of court’s decision to release former governor

Joel Reyes was alleged mastermind in the murder of anti-mining activist Dr Gerry Ortega in 2011

Gulf News

Manila: Environmentalists and government leaders called for a reversal of a court decision to release a former governor over the murder of an anti-mining activist in southwestern Philippines in 2011.

“Protest rallies will be held to condemn the January 5 decision of the Court of Appeals to release former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes — alleged mastermind in the murder of Dr Gerry Ortega in 2011,” Evangeline Hernandez, chair of Hustisya told Gulf News. “We call for public support. We can attain justice by not letting the perpetrators escape accountability,” she said.

“We will exercise all legal options to reverse the court decision,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.Roque said he met Solicitor General Jose Calida and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and discussed the filing of a motion for reconsideration.

The court ruling was “a travesty of justice and [the release of the former governor was] a very sad development for press freedom,” Roque said.

The Appellate Court could not supersede the ruling of Puerto Princesa’s Regional Trial Court that evidence against the former governor was strong and his petition for bail was denied, Roque argued and said the Supreme Court has also dismissed in 2016 Reyes’s petition to invalidate the lower court’s hearing of his case.

At the time, the Apex Court also upheld the justice department’s creation of a second panel in 2012 — it eventually determined probable cause against Reyes, which led to his indictment.

Following a public clamour, the justice department created a second panel after its first panel came with a resolution in 2011 that cleared Reyes of involvement in Ortega’s killing — due to insufficient evidence.

Responding to Reyes’ petition, the Appellate Court decided to uphold the decision of the justice department’s first panel that cleared him of murder charges in 2011; it also blamed Puerto Princesa’s regional trial court of abuse of power when it decided there was probable cause to charge Reyes of alleged involvement in Ortega’s murder.

The lower court had convicted Reyes’ personal aide, Arturo Regalado for conspiring with hired killers from Quezon province, southern Luzon, to assassinate Ortega, who was also a journalist and wildlife veterinarian. Reyes’ former bodyguard Rodolfo Edrad Jr became a state witness. The police had arrested suspected killer Marvin Alcaraz in Metro Manila’s Taguig City, in 2011.

After hiding for three years in Phuket, Thailand, Reyes was arrested by Thai police in 2015.

In 2011, Reyes was the 142nd victim of media-activist killings. He was then 47.

Roque was a former lawyer of the Ortega family. He left the case after he was elected congressman in June 2016.