The Court of Appeals recently dismissed the murder cases filed against former Governor Joel Reyes of Palawan and his brother Mayor Mario Reyes of the municipality of Coron in that province.
In January 2011, broadcast journalist Gerry Ortega was gunned down at a clothing store he and his wife owned. He had been saying in his radio program that the governor appropriated for himself the province’s share of the Malampaya Fund.
Call it coincidence. The CA decision came at a time when the nation was awaiting with bated breath the filing of cases against those who diverted P900 million of Malampaya Fund to fake non-government organizations (NGOs).
The charge sheet includes former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, and a host of other former high-government officials.
Also named respondent is Janet Lim Napoles, who is said to have set up those NGOs whose sole purpose was to document the existence of projects where there were none at all. She and three senators and a number of congressmen and their chiefs of staff have likewise been charged.
The point we’re trying to make here is that there was basis for Ortega’s crusade against what he called in his broadcast as the misuse, even outright theft of government money. The prosecution’s theory is that the hard-hitting radio commentator so infuriated the suspects that they had him killed.
On June 8, 2011, however, a panel of investigators, headed by State Prosecutor Edwin Dayog, dismissed the cases against the brothers evidence.” It didn’t matter that the murderer and his cohorts implicated them.
It is reminiscent of the justification used by a Makati trial court to acquit Nur Misuari in the rebellion charges filed against him the first time he and his men laid siege on Zamboanga City.
Scores were killed, soldiers and innocent civilians alike, but thecourt had the gumption to hand down a not-guilty guilty “for failure of the prosecution to present sufficient evidence.”
The CA says Justice Secretary Leila de Lima erred in forming a second panel of prosecutors, which found probable cause to indict the respondents. It describes the text messages between the governor and the hit man, which the prosecution presented to strengthen its case, as “forgotten evidence” rather than “new evidence.”
To our mind it is ridiculous to hang the dismissal of the case on such technicality.
In this country courts take decades to decide the guilt or innocence of the accused, if they come around to deciding it at all. That is what so infuriates people, but that is not all. The courts must first decide whether to proceed with the trial on the merits, and that takes an equally long time.
Take the case of Herminio Disini of the infamous Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.
A few days ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sandiganbayan may now proceed to try Disini for graft and corruption committed in 1974 in connection with the anomalous contract awarded to Burns and Roe and Westinghouse Electrical Corporation.
Following the People Power Revolution in 1986, the government filed a case against the Marcos crony. The respondent, however, argued the case had already prescribed.
Of course, anybody has the right to come up with a defense, but should the judicial system take all of 27 years to decide whether or not a respondent could be tried for a crime?
So can we expect justice at last now that the way is clear for the trial on the merits to proceed? The accused, already a doddering old man, will be dead by then. And so the rest of us.
The country’s judicial system is a joke.