In the latest legal twist in the 11-year-old murder case of Gerry Ortega, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) asked the Supreme Court to “order the immediate rearrest and detention” of former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, the accused mastermind in the murder.

Earlier this month, the OSG, in a 62-page comment, asked to lift the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the High Court on March 23 against the arrest warrant issued by Regional Trial Court in Puerto Princesa City Branch 52 against Reyes.

The OSG also urged the Supreme Court to dismiss Reyes’ petition for review on certiorari, which sought to junk the November 2019 amended decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) Special Former 11th Division that revived the murder case against him.

Gerry Ortega was shot and killed with a single bullet to the back of the head while he was shopping at a thrift store in Puerto Princesa City, just after his radio show on January 24, 2011, at 10:30 in the morning.

The shooter, Marlon Recamata, a construction worker from Pagbilao, Quezon province, was captured after a brief chase by local firemen who happened to pass by during the incident. Recamata pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment on May 7, 2013, by Judge Angelo R. Arizala, presiding judge of RTC Puerto Princesa City Branch 52.

After Ortega’s murder, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila De Lima created a special panel of prosecutors to conduct such a preliminary investigation on February 7, 2011.

On June 8, 2011, the First Panel dismissed the complaint against Reyes because of insufficient evidence. Reyes invoked the principle of “res inter alios acta”and claimed that middleman Rodolfo Edrad’s confession was “binding” only to himself and cannot be used to implicate him.

After the First Panel’s decision, Justice Secretary De Lima, formed a new panel of prosecutors in “the interest of service and due process” to review the First Panel’s recommendation and assess the additional evidence submitted to it.
On October 3, 2011, Reyes sought a temporary restraining order from the Court of Appeals in an attempt to block the re-investigation. In his petition, Reyes argued that the parties were already afforded due process and that the evidence to be addressed by the reinvestigation was neither new nor material to the case.

On March 12, 2012, the Second Panel reversed the First Panel’s resolution and found probable cause to charge Reyes, and his brother Mario, with murder. Two weeks later, Judge Angelo R. Arizala, presiding judge of RTC Puerto Princesa City Branch 52, issued arrest warrants against the Reyes brothers. After being fugitives for a while, the brothers were subsequently arrested.

On March 19, 2013 the Court of Appeals rendered the Department of Justice Order No. 710 that created the Second Panel “null and void” and reinstated the First Panel’s Resolution that dismissed Reyes. Justice Leila de Lima appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.

While released pending this appeal, Reyes was returned to custody for a different case in relation to the conviction by the Sandiganbayan for graft and corruption for giving unwarranted benefit to a mining firm, which was granted small-scale mining permits despite exceeding the allowable extraction limit.

On December 20, 2019, a new composition of justices of the Court of Appeals reversed the 2018 decision and ordered the Palawan court to resume its trial. More than two years after this decision, the case was sent back to Judge Angelo Arizala’s sala at the lower court in Palawan, where the hearings and trials are expected to resume.

On July 14, 2021, Judge Angelo Arizala of Branch 52 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Palawan issued a fresh arrest warrant for Reyes. The Supreme Court has issued a Temporary Restraining Order on the execution of this warrant pending the resolution of a motion for reconsideration filed by Reyes.

While I cannot comment on the substance of the two cases pending against Joel Reyes, it would be useful to state clearly that these are pending cases and they will proceed to resolution regardless of the results of the elections next week.

On the first case, the Ortega murder, the Supreme Court will have to decide the motion for reconsideration that 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. As noted, it has asked for his re-arrest and the lifting of the TRO against the arrest warrant.

On the second case, the graft and corruption case, where perpetual disqualification for public office has been meted on Reyes, the Court will have to affirm the conviction.

In both cases, no final decision of the Supreme Court has been issued. I believe in the Supreme Court and the judicial process. I truly subscribe to the famous words of Martin Luther King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

(This opinion story was first published by the Manila Standard on May 3, 2022.)