The justice beat in Manila churned out a story this week, reporting that the Sandiganbayan has denied a motion filed by former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes and other officials to dismiss the multiple criminal charges filed by the Ombudsman in 2017 in connection with the alleged misuse of Palawan’s share of the Malampaya royalties.

This case has been going on for seven years and is still in the process of trial. The main respondent is former governor Reyes, currently in hiding and with an outstanding arrest warrant for the 2011 murder of former Palawan broadcast journalist Dr. Gerry Ortega.

His co-accused include former senior Capitol officials, several of whom are already deceased. Also named respondents are public works contractors still actively engaged in bidding for and executing Palawan provincial government projects.

The case pertains to the appropriation of some P1.5 million in provincial government funds from the Malampaya shares, which the Commission on Audit then tagged as anomalous, leading to the filing of the case by the Ombudsman back in 2017.

The COA had concluded that the projects were rigged by Capitol’s bids and awards body to favor certain contractors. The brazenness of the act was palpable, with unfinished projects being reported as completed, if only to allow the contractors to collect payments.

Reyes and his co-accused have been facing 38 counts of graft since.

Reyes has repeatedly tried to extricate himself from the case, claiming that the Malampaya-funded projects during his term were conducted above board and pleading that the case be dismissed outright. This is now finally denied by the Sandiganbayan, and all the respondents will have to present their case in a trial.

After a failed gubernatorial run in 2021, Reyes went into hiding again after the Supreme Court overturned a 2016 Court of Appeals ruling dismissing his murder case, citing insufficient evidence. Yet, despite this SC reversal ruling, law enforcement agencies have to haul Reyes back to court. Meanwhile, the RTC had already convicted many of his co-accused in the murder case.

Palawan’s experience with the Malampaya project has been a tragic cautionary tale of deceit and violence. Originally intended to finance energy-related projects and programs, the fund has become a source of controversy, exposing the faults and vulnerabilities of governance in Palawan. Dr. Gerry Ortega was the most prominent whistleblower on the anomalous Malampaya-funded projects, and Reyes has been accused of being the mastermind of his murder.

To this day, justice remains elusive.

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