MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday reversed an earlier resolution and approved the indictment of former Palawan governor Joel Reyes for the killing of radio broadcaster Gerry Ortega in Puerto Princesa City on Jan. 24 last year.
In a 28-page resolution, the DOJ said it found probable cause to file murder charges against Reyes, his brother Coron Mayor Mario Reyes Jr., former provincial administrator Romeo Seratubias, close-in aide Arturo Regalado, and Valentin Lecias after a reinvestigation by a second panel of state prosecutors into the complaint filed by Ortega’s wife Patria Gloria.
The DOJ panel, composed of Assistant State Prosecutors Stewart Allan Mariano, Vimar Barcellano and Gerard Gaerlan, junked Reyes’ denial and instead upheld the testimony of Rodolfo Edrad Jr., another suspect who tagged the former governor and his brother as masterminds of the killing.
The investigating fiscals cited the admission made by the Reyes brothers in their counter-affidavits that Edrad went to Mayor Reyes’ house in Ayala Alabang, Muntinlupa City to receive money, which they said weakened the respondents’ denial of close association with the gunman who had turned as a witness for the complainant.
Edrad, in his earlier affidavit, confessed hiring alleged gunman Marlon Recamata and other men and then claimed that Mayor Reyes, on orders of the former governor, gave him P500,000 as reward for the hit job.
The Reyes brothers admitted paying the gunman but only for P5,000.
With this, the DOJ rejected the alibi as “unreliable since (it runs) contrary to human experience.”
The new panel based its conclusion on new evidence submitted by Mrs. Ortega during the reinvestigation, particularly the text messages sent by Reyes to Edrad, which were saved on the latter’s cell phone.
“It runs counter to human experience for someone to communicate as frequently as respondent Reyes did to respondent Edrad… unless they have other important matters to discuss during that period,” stated the resolution approved by Prosecutor General Claro Arellano.
Records from a mobile network showed that the postpaid mobile number on Reyes’ name sent to Edrad’s cell phone number a total of 15 messages in December 2010 and 27 in January 2011.
On the day Ortega was killed, Edrad got 16 text messages from the former governor who was out of the country at that time.
“In spite of the special rates and/or higher rates of sending text messages from abroad, they still communicated with each other,” the DOJ panel added, finding this proof of “importance of their communications.”
The fiscals noted that Reyes has the motive and financial capability to carry out the killing.
They also said there’s ample evidence to indict Seratubias, who owned the gun used in the killing, as well as Regalado and Lecias, who took part in the crime.
The DOJ’s National Prosecution Service already filed the information against the Reyes brothers before the Puerto Princesa City regional trial court.
This new finding of the DOJ was contrary to the conclusion of the first panel of fiscals that conducted the preliminary investigation last year.
In its resolution, the first panel held that there was no ample basis to indict Reyes for murder, explaining that rules of court only allow extrajudicial confession of a co-conspirator in the crime when it is supported by independent evidence or if it is used as corroborative evidence.
The first panel said Edrad’s testimony was “uncorroborated” and therefore not credible. It recommended the filing of murder charges only against Edrad and three other suspects, Armando Noel, Dennis Aranas, and Arwin Arandia.
Like in the earlier resolution, former Marinduque governor Jose Antonio Carrion was also cleared by the new panel for insufficiency of evidence.
Ortega was shot dead in Palawan while buying clothes in an ukay-ukay (used clothing) outlet. Subsequent investigation by the police and the National Bureau of Investigation pointed to former governor Reyes and Carrion as the alleged masterminds. - By Edu Punay