Former Palawan governor Mario Joel T. Reyes may soon have to face again his aborted trial as the mastermind suspect in the 2011 murder of broadcast journalist and environmentalist Dr. Gerry Ortega.
Presently detained on corruption charges related to the illegal operations of mining companies in the province during his term as governor, Reyes’ trial was halted last year after he won an appeal over his indictment.
The Court of Appeals (CA) on Friday however reversed its January 2018 decision which now allows for the trial to continue after sitting almost eight years just to find probable cause for the case to prosper.
Associate Justice Marie Christine Azcarraga-Jacob said that the appellate court erred on dismissing the case citing that the proper remedy is to allow the criminal suit to undergo a trial to test the merits of the evidence presented by the prosecution.
“The statements of [the] prosecution witness are matters which are evidentiary in nature and best threshed out in a full-blown trial. 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 amended decision said.
The Ortega family expressed hope on the development brought by the anew CA decision as the case is about to mark its 9th year since the murder.
‘The Ortega family welcomes this development by the Court of Appeals. The trial will resume next year in Palawan, marking the 9th year since the murder of Doc Gerry Ortega. We thank the Office Solicitor General for filing the Motion for Reconsideration ensuring that we remain on course to justice,” a family statement issued Friday said.
Meanwhile, lawyer Demetrio Custodio Jr., one of the defense counsel, said that a Motion for Reconsideration (MR) was already filed before the CA and the trial will not push through until the matter was resolved.
“My client was disappointed because it was initially decided that the case lacks merit. We maintain [our contention] that the RTC should dismiss the case because there’s not enough evidence to support it,” Custodio said.
The appellate court took cognizance of the case after the defense questioned the merits of the trial while it was still sitting at the sala of judge Angelo R. Arizala in Palawan Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 52.
On its latest decision, the CA ordered the lower court to proceed on the trial and to issue a warrant of arrest against Reyes.
Reyes, a quasi-recidivist, is currently serving time at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig after being convicted on January 17, 2018 for a graft case before the Sandiganbayan.
Ortega was gunned down by a hired gunman in 2011 named Reyes and his younger brother, former Coron mayor Mario Reyes, as the masterminds.
Subsequent investigations led to the indictment of the Reyes brothers and several other people formerly connected with the Palawan provincial government.