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The Supreme Court has been asked to lift the temporary restraining order it issued last month stopping the Puerto Princesa City Regional Trial Court from enforcing its warrant of arrest against former Palawan governor Mario Joel Reyes, and instead order his immediate re-arrest to ensure his appearance during the trial of the murder case filed against him, in connection with the killing of staunch anti-corruption crusader, environmentalist, and broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega in 2011.

In a 62-page comment filed on April 1, 2022, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) also sought the dismissal of Reyes’ petition for review on certiorari, which seeks to reverse and set aside the November 28, 2019, amended decision of the Court of Appeals’ Special Former Eleventh Division that enjoined the Puerto Princesa City RTC, Branch 52, to issue a warrant of arrest against the former governor.

The CA’s amended decision reversed its January 2018 ruling, which dismissed the murder case against Reyes and ordered his release, and instead, the appellate court upheld the ruling of the Puerto Princesa City RTC that denied the plea of Reyes to suspend the proceedings and sustained the validity of the warrant of arrest it issued against the petitioner.

Reyes has been charged with murder along with his brother, former Coron town mayor Mario Reyes, and eight others for the death of Ortega.

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A known critic of Reyes, Ortega was gunned down in front of a thrift store in Puerto Princesa City on January 24, 2011.

The trial court ordered his arrest in March 2012, despite Reyes moving to suspend the murder case and recall the warrant of arrest. This prompted Reyes to assail the RTC ruling before the appellate court, citing the trial court’s reliance on the “uncorroborated statement” of witness Rodolfo “Bumar” Edrad, his bodyguard.

Aside from Edrad’s affidavit, the CA cited the sworn statements of Arwin Arandia, who claimed to have been initially hired by Edrad to kill Ortega; Dennis Aranas, and Marlon Recamata, who also confessed to being paid to kill Ortega. Recamata was convicted in 2013.

“Respondent People of the Philippines most respectfully prays that this Honorable Court: lift the temporary restraining order enjoining the [RTC], Branch 52, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan from implementing a warrant of arrest against petitioner and from conducting further proceedings in Criminal Case No. 26839,” the OSG through Senior State Solicitor Henry Gerald P. Ysaac Jr. and State Solicitor Dianne Margarette T. Delos Reyes-Gonzales pleaded.

It also urged the SC to “order the immediate re-arrest and detention” of Reyes pending final trial and resolution of the murder charges against him in Criminal Case No. 26839.

The OSG made the plea after the SC, in a resolution dated March 23, 2022, granted Reyes’s motion for reconsideration, reinstated his petition, and required the respondent to comment on the petition within a non-extendible period of ten (10) days from notice.

The SC also issued a TRO stopping the trial court from implementing its warrant of arrest against the petitioner and from conducting further proceedings in the murder case pending the final resolution of his petition.

It can be recalled that on June 14, 2021, the SC First Division denied the petition for review of Reyes “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.”

Arguing for the recall of the halt order and plea for the re-arrest of the former governor, the chief state lawyer asserted that Reyes is not entitled to a TRO or a writ of a preliminary injunction because Reyes’s constitutional right to due process has not been violated.

“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 comment stated.

“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,” the OSG said.

The solicitor’s office argued that there is a clear basis for the RTC’s issuance of a warrant of arrest against Reyes, citing the lower court’s finding that there is strong evidence of the petitioner’s guilt in the murder of Dr. Ortega.

“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,” the OSG said.

The OSG asserted that the high bench should order the re-arrest of the petitioner and allow the continuation of the trial proceedings on the ground that the RTC’s issuance of the warrant of arrest against the petitioner is supported by legal and jurisprudential basis, rather than arbitrary and unfounded conclusions.

Besides, the Court of Appeals, in its amended decision, correctly reversed and set aside the CA’s first decision, and ruled that the RTC did not commit grave abuse of discretion when it found probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest against Reyes.

“The Court of Appeals, in the CA amended decision, correctly found that there was probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest against petitioner,” the OSG comment said, adding 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 the 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 of trial. It does not yet require the judge to evaluate whether the evidence on record is sufficient for conviction,” the OSG pointed out.

According to the Solicitor General’s office, the CA’s amended decision takes into account the following subsequent events that transpired after the issuance of the warrant of arrest against the petitioner: (a) petitioner’s flight to Thailand where they were eventually apprehended and from where they were deported back to the Philippines sometime in September 2015; (b) the conviction of Recamata on April 17, 2013 for the murder of Dr. Ortega in Criminal Case No. 25727; (c) the conviction of Regalado for the murder of Dr. Ortega in Criminal Case No. 26839; and (d) the RTC’s denial on September 8, 2016, of petitioner’s Application Ad Cautelam for Admission to Bail.

“The September 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,” OSG argued.

“Finally, independent of the evidence, it is further submitted that the CA Amended Decision correctly ruled that the RTC did not act without or in excess of its jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion, in finding probable cause and issuing warrant of arrest against petitioner,” it added.

The OSG also assailed the petition for certiorari filed by Reyes, saying it should not be issued to cure errors by the trial court in its appreciation of the evidence before it. “Since there is no error of jurisdiction [that] can be attributed to the trial court in its assessment of the evidence, certiorari should not have been granted,” the state counsels emphasized.

“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,” the OSG’s comment concluded.

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