Former Palawan governor Joel Reyes and his brother, Mario, arrived in Puerto Princesa City on Friday afternoon a few hours after they were deported from Thailand where they had been arrested for violating Thai residency laws.
Radio reports said the Philippine Airlines flight that carried the two heavily-guarded former officials, who are among the five most wanted high-profile fugitives, landed at half past 2 p.m.
”Holiday [that’s why the court is closed], we will return the warrant [of arrest]as the court opens,” Philippine National Police Director-General Ricardo Marquez said in Camp Crame in Quezon City where the Reyeses were presented to the media.
The Reyes brothers will be detained at the Puerto Princesa City Jail, radio station dzBB said, quoting the jail’s spokesman.
According to city jail spokesman Marlito Anza, the two would be held in an ordinary cell with a wooden bed and a common toilet at an “isolated dorm.”
“We were instructed to keep them in the isolation dorm. No other inmates will be with them,” Anza said.
The Reyeses were scheduled to face the Puerto Princesa City Regional Trial Court on Monday.
The two are facing a murder complaint for the killing of anti-corruption crusader and radio broadcaster Gerry Ortega in January 2011.
The two slipped out of the country last March 18, 2012 aboard a Cebu Pacific flight bound for Vietnam where they entered Thailand using fake passports and fictitious names.
The former governor allegedly used a fake Malaysian passport with the name “Jhonny Leong” while Mario used a fake Philippine passport using the name “Nicholas Lim Gatchalian.”
“They used different passports in going to Thailand. Obviously, they know a red notice from the Interpol will be issued against them,” Marquez said.
Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento said the fugitives will not be accorded any special privileges while in prison.
”That won’t happen. Everyone is equal in the eyes of the State. Even the Constitution has this equal protection clause. There will be no special treatment,” Sarmiento added.
Chief Supt. Victor Deona, chief of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, said the Miranda rights were read to the Reyes brothers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) as they were formally arrested for Ortega’s murder.
The Reyes brothers arrived at NAIA Terminal 2 around 3:08 a.m. Friday aboard Philippine Air Lines Flight 733, which left Thailand at 11 p.m. Thursday night.
The brothers were then brought to Camp Crame for booking procedure and presentation to the media.
The Reyes brothers lived lavishly for more than three years in Thailand.
CIDG chief Deona said they stayed in a villa in Rawai Area in Phuket where they were arrested Sunday as he showed photographs of the two fugitives in a beach resort.
They also drove around the resort state in a sport utility vehicle (SUV).
PNP chief Marquez said Thai authorities sent a letter to the Philippine Embassy in Bangkok last February confirming the presence of the Reyeses.
He claimed that as early as May 2014, CIDG’s Task Force Tugis already knew they were in Thailand.
An anonymous e-mail message to the CIDG saying the two were in Phuket was forwarded to the Royal Thai police, which then started to discreetly track their whereabouts.
The Reyes brothers were eventually arrested on Sunday afternoon.
MALACANANG on Friday said the Reyeses would be treated like ordinary prisoners.
“Applicable rules on detainees will be applied to them,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
Reacting to reports that the expected resignation of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima may affect the case against the Reyeses, Coloma assured that it will not happen.
“Regardless of who occupies the position of Justice secretary, it is imperative that the case must be pursued,” the Palace official pointed out.
De Lima earlier gave an emotional “farewell” speech to her subordinates at the Department of Justice (DOJ) as she plans to file her certificate of candidacy for senator. The Justice chief landed seventh in the latest pre-election surveys.
Prior to her speech, de Lima was asked by Patria “Patty” and Michaella “Mika” Ortega, widow and daughter of the late Gerry Ortega, to decide on the petition for review they filed four years ago of the first panel of DOJ prosecutors’ ruling in favor of the accused.
The Ortegas bewailed that instead of reversing the decision of the panel, de Lima simply formed a second panel that decided against the Reyeses.
The Court of Appeals, however, junked the second panel and ordered the Justice chief to just review the ruling of the first panel.
But de Lima was adamant because doing so might affect the merit of the motion for reconsideration that the department has filed.
The Ortega family, through counsel Alex Avisado, urged the Justice chief to reconsider her decision to leave their petition for review of the Ortega murder case unresolved and to simply wait for the Supreme Court to decide on whether the arrest warrants for the fugitive Reyes brothers will remain in force or be lifted.
Avisado was reacting to de Lima’s statement on Wednesday expressing confidence that the DOJ will secure a ruling from the SC to uphold the arrest warrants.
The Justice secretary added that her action to resolve the petition for review might weaken their case before the SC.
The DOJ filed an appeal before the SC after the Court of Appeals upheld the Reyeses motion to declare null and void the creation of a second panel of persecutors, which filed the murder case against the suspects in the January 2012 Ortega killing.
“By acting on the petition for review, it does not mean that she no longer believes in the strength and merits of the appeal. It simply means that due to the exigencies of the times, pendency of the case for five years and her coming resignation, the DOJ secretary needs to act and act fast in order to prevent an impending miscarriage of justice–the dismissal of the case by the SC due to a technicality,” Avisado said.
“We believe that the higher demands of substantial justice should compel the DOJ secretary to adopt a different position in order to avoid any suspicion that she could be protecting the Reyes brothers as the former counsel of Gov. Joel Reyes,” he added.
“With due respect, Secretary de Lima does not need to withdraw the appeal that is pending before the SC. If she resolves the petition for review, the appeal before the SC will just be rendered moot and academic,” Avisado said.
The Ortega family earlier submitted a petition signed by over 30,000 concerned individuals asking, among others, that de Lima resolve the petition for review in order to ensure that the ongoing trial of the Ortega murder case will not be stopped.
Avisado pointed out that the CA ruling on the defense’s appeal specifically urged her to resolve the petition for review instead of creating another panel of prosecutors, which received additional evidence against the suspects and found probable cause against the suspected masterminds and several others.
“In fact, the decision of the Court of Appeals even stated that the DOJ secretary should have resolved the petition for review instead of creating the second panel of prosecutors,” Avisado said.
He added that there is “no legal impediment” for de Lima to resolve the petition, pointing out that the lawyers of the Reyeses had tried but were denied by the CA in their bid to prohibit the DOJ secretary from acting to resolve the petition for review.
“So there is still time. She can still act on the petition if she wants to. She must act fast. She must act now,” Avisado said.