PN file photo

The Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) has backed the move of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) in urging the Supreme Court (SC) to have former Palawan governor Mario Joel Reyes rearrested for the murder of environmentalist and broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega.

Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco, head of the task force, said in a statement that he “fully backs and supports” the OSG motion following the high tribunal’s issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) against an arrest warrant issued by the Palawan Regional Trial Court (RTC) for ex governor Reyes.

“The Presidential Task Force shares the sentiments of the OSG in its motion to lift the TRO, which is preventing the re-arrest of the former governor. We believe that the evidence of guilt is strong in the criminal case filed against Reyes in connection with the slaying of Gerry Ortega,” Egco said. Egco released his statement during a press conference called by the Ortega family in Puerto Princesa City on Wednesday.

The OSG had earlier asked the SC to dismiss the petition for review filed by Reyes with the High Court, filing a 62-page comment on the TRO resolution issued by the high court’s 2nd division in March.

Holding a press conference to respond to media questions following the release of the TRO, the Ortega family on Wednesday expressed continued concern over the delay of the trial in the 2021 murder case.

“Labing-isang taon na po ang nakalilipas at hanggang ngayon, nananawagan pa rin po ang aming pamilya ng hustisya. Hustisya para sa pagpatay sa aking asawa at ama ng aking mga anak. Hindi lang po pera ang ninakaw nila kundi buhay, oras, at pagkakataon. Pumatay sila ng isang dakilang Palawenyo,” Patria Gloria Ortega, wife of Dr. Gerry Ortega, said.

Ortega expressed gratitude for the efforts of the administration to push ahead with the prosecution of the murder case.

“Kahit mahaba ang laban, nagpapasalamat po ako sa patuloy nating pagtutulong-tulong para makamit ang hustisya. Nagpapasalamat po ako sa Office of the Solicitor General, sa Department of Justice Philippines, at sa Presidential Task Force on Media Security sa kanilang paghiling sa Korte Suprema na bawiin ang TRO at agarang ipagpatuloy ang paglilitis ng kaso sa RTC,” she said.

A group of international media organizations that recently published a report on the Ortega murder case also joined local calls for the immediate resolution of the murder case.

Jos Bartman, coordinator of A Safer World for the Truth, a collaborative project between Free Press Unlimited, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters sans frontières/Reporters Without Borders/RSF), said they are firming up plans to send a delegation to the Philippines after the elections to present their findings and recommendations to the Philippine government.

“The recent Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the implementation of the arrest warrant issued by Puerto Princesa City Regional Trial Court – has been characteristic of this evasion of justice. This evasion of prosecution by Joel T. Reyes results constitutes impunity, but also a threat to the family of Gerry Ortega, and all other journalists in the Philippines. It sends the message that murdering a journalist can go unpunished,” Bartman said.

No timeline on TRO expiration
Lawyers advising the Ortega family said there is no definite timeline on when the Supreme Court will resolve the appeal of Reyes on its earlier decision to allow the hearings to proceed in the lower court where Reyes stands accused as the mastermind in the January 24, 2011 murder of Gerry Ortega.

Former Ateneo School of Governance Dean Antonio La Vina explained that Reyes is currently facing two cases before the Supreme Court, the first is on the murder case and another which pertains to his conviction for grant by the Sandiganbayan.

“On the first case, the Supreme Court will have to decide the motion for reconsideration that Mr. Reyes has filed on the reinstatement by the Court of Appeals of the charges filed against him. The Office of the Solicitor General has opposed that motion and has asked for the lifting of the TRO so that the Ortega murder trial is resumed and completed.

On the second case, where perpetual disqualification for public office, has been meted on Mr. Reyes, the Court will have to affirm the conviction. In both cases, no final decision of the Supreme Court has been issued. We expect that justice will be done once the process is completed,” Atty. La Vina said.

Activist priest Fr. Robert Reyes, a friend of the victim, criticized the high court over its issuance of the TRO.

“Thanks to the TRO released by the Supreme Court he now seems to enjoy both immunity and impunity. The evidence to convict Joel Reyes as the mastermind of the murder of Doc Gerry Ortega is clearer than daylight. I don’t understand how members of the Supreme Court can close their eyes on the plain, incontrovertible truth of who and how and why Doc Gerry was murdered,” Fr. Reyes said.

Nenen Momay-Castillo, daughter of a Maguindanao massacre victim, expressed support to the Ortega family and joined calls for the immediate resumption of the murder trial.

“Nanawagan po ako sa ating mga hukom na pagtuonan ng pansin itong kaso ni Dok Gerry Ortega ng Palawan. Sinasamahan ko po ang Pamilya Ortega sa panawagang ipagpatuloy ang paglilitis sa korte. Dapat pong harapin ng alleged mastermind ang kaso sa RTC. Lagpas na po ng isang dekada at hanggang sa ngayon nananawagan pa rin po ang Pamilya Ortega ng hustisya,” Momay-Castillo said.

In a separate statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) welcomed the motion filed by the OSG to lift the TRO on Reyes’ arrest.

“We welcome moves by the Office of the Solicitor General and the Presidential Task Force on Media Security to have him rearrested. The OSG has argued that there are “essential requisites” for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and, the OSG has argued that these are not present in this case,” the NUJP said. (with reports from Aira Genesa Magdayao)