The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed its decision clearing former Palawan governor Mario Joel Reyes of murder charges in relation to the killing of veteran broadcaster and environmentalist Dr. Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega in 2011.
In a 6-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Angelita Gacutan, the CA Special Tenth Division voted 3-2 in denying the motion for reconsideration filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking for a reevaluation of the tribunal’s first decision that exonerated the fugitive former official.
The court reinforced its dispositive position declaring the Justice department’s Order No. 710 null and void, including the resolution of the second Panel of Prosecutors dated March 12, 2012.
The CA reinstated the resolutions of the first panels of prosecutors dated June 8 and September 2, 2011 that cleared Reyes.
Department Order No. 710 was issued by the DOJ to create a second panel of prosecutors after the first panel of prosecutors absolved Reyes.
The tribunal said that the Justice secretary has the authority to review resolutions of the prosecutors when no petition for review is filed. Instead of forming a new panel, it said Secretary Leila de Lima should have just reviewed the decision of the first panel of prosecutors.
The DOJ, in its appeal, said the appellate court “grossly misappreciated the facts of the case when it ruled that the Secretary of Justice committed grave abuse of discretion because she did not rule on the Petition for Review but instead issued D.O. No. 710.”
But the court argued that de Lima should have observed proper procedural protocols.
When the first panel of prosecutors cleared Reyes, Patty Ortega, the widow of Gerry, filed a petition for review ad cautelam.
According to the CA, when Mrs. Ortega filed her petition, the resolution of the first panel of prosecutors still subsists as confirmed by De Lima that “D.O. No. 710 does not set aside the resolutions dated June 8, 2011 and September 2, 2011 rendered by the previous panel of prosecutors.”
Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Fernanda Lampas-Peralta and Francisco Acosta. Meanwhile, Associate Justices Noel Tijam and Romeo Barza dissented from the majority opinion and voted to grant the motion for reconsideration.
De Lima said her department will elevate the case to the Supreme Court.
‘Triumph of justice’
Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, Reyes’s legal counsel, welcomed the decision and declared it a “triumph of justice.”
He said that the CA decision only “proves that the truth cannot be hidden for long.”
“While we celebrate this triumph of justice and the Constitution, we are saddened by the realization that under the present dispensation, the Department of Justice is being used as a blunt instrument to persecute those who are not allied with the current administration by the use of highly irregular procedures designed to secure the imprisonment of those it targets for elimination,” Topacio said in a statement.
The Ortega camp, meanwhile, said they were “unfazed” by the “technicality raised by the appeals court.”
”Now that it has been shown that Doc Gerry Ortega was killed because of his expose on the plunder of Malampaya funds, it would be a travesty and an injustice to let the masterminds ex Gov Joel Reyes and Mayor Marjo Reyes go free,” said lawyer Alex Avisado.
”We still believe that in the end, justice will only be for the deserving,” he added.
Jorge F. Zamora