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CA nullifies murder raps vs Reyes brothers in Gerry Ortega slay case

November 27, 2012 1:27pm
(Updated 7:50 p.m.) The Court of Appeals has invalidated the creation of the second Department of Justice (DOJ) panel that re-investigated the killing of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerardo "Gerry" Ortega in January 2011.
 
As a result, the panel’s findings that there was probable cause to charge former Palawan governor Joel Reyes and his brother Coron, Palawan mayor Mario Reyes for the killing was also invalidated.
 
In a 36-page resolution, the CA faulted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for "grave abuse of discretion" when she created the second panel without acting on a petition for review filed by Ortega’s daughter, Michaella.
 
"Grave abuse of discretion is not enough; it must amount to lack or excess of jurisdiction. Excess of jurisdiction signifies that he had jurisdiction over the case but transcended the same or acted without authority. We see the above in the assailed acts of the Secretary of Justice and of the Panel of Prosecutors," the court said.
 
The resolution was penned by Associate Justice Leoncia Real-Dimagiba.
 
Ferdinand Topacio, legal counsel for the Reyes brothers, said they will ask the court in Palawan to invalidate the arrest warrants against his clients.
 
The Reyes brothers and four other suspects had already been cleared for insufficiency of evidence by a DOJ panel in a June 8, 2011 resolution. On September 7, 2012, however, De Lima formed a new panel and re-opened the case through Department Order 710 (DO-710), which eventually modified the first panel's resolution and included the Reyes brothers in the charge sheet.
 
In the re-investigation, the second panel considered additional evidence presented by Michaella, including documents containing the supposed text messages between Joel Reyes and another suspect, Rodolfo Edrad, from December 2010 and January 24, 2011, the day Ortega was killed. Another evidence was a compact disc containing recordings of Gerry Ortega's radio commentaries against Joel Reyes.

Grave abuse of discretion
 
In its latest ruling, the CA favored a petition filed by Mario Reyes questioning the decision of the second DOJ panel to indict them despite the ruling of the first panel clearing them. The CA said the second DOJ panel has no authority to modify the resolution of the first panel.
 
"We see grave abuse of discretion on the part of the DO-710 Panel when it exceeded the authority vested upon it by the Secretary of Justice which was just to assess the admissibility of the additional evidence submitted during the re-investigation, but issued a resolution modifying the resolution of the original (co-equal) Investigating Panel, which it did not have authority to, as the same rests exclusively with the Secretary of Justice," it said.
 
The court reminded De Lima to act only within her jurisdiction: "It behooves upon the Secretary of Justice to adhere to the Rules of Procedure the DOJ promulgated for orderly and effective administration of justice otherwise the vast power of the Secretary of Justice would be susceptible of abuse. Scary!!"
 
"As the creation of of DO-710 Panel was tainted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, the same is hereby declared null and void," the court added.
 
The CA also said: "The creation of the DO-710 Panel being null and void, the Resolution dated 12 March 2012 is set aside and nullified."
 
Sought for comment, De Lima said she will ask the Court of Appeals to reverse its ruling. 
 
"I will ask the Office of the Solicitor General to seek reconsideration of that ruling," De Lima told GMA News Online on Tuesday.
 
The OSG stands as the government's lawyer in cases that involves the government.
 
Meanwhile, Topacio appealed to all parties involved in the case to just accept the CA ruling.
 
Respect the courts
 
"Let us respect the courts,” Topacio said in a statement. “We have always submitted ourselves to the legal processes, as have they. So they must respect it."
 
"If they cannot respect the decisions of the agencies comprising our justice system, then they should not participate in these legal proceedings," he added.
 
Michaella refused to comment on the CA ruling for the meantime, saying they will issue a statement soon.
 
Topacio lauded the CA for not succumbing to the "massive black propaganda, political motivations, appeal to emotions or efforts to arouse public sympathy." 
 
"Justice should not be made to pander to the hooting throng, or to the shrill histrionics of persons with hidden agenda," he said.
 
Topacio urged those who could not accept the CA ruling to stop their "sanctimonious hypocrisy." 
 
"They must put up or shut up! They should heed the saying that we should maintain justice, or justice will not maintain us," he said.
 
Topacio said they would give their "level share" in finding the "real perpetrators" behind the Ortega's killing.
 
Second DOJ panel
 
The second panel of prosecutors was composed of Assistant State Prosecutors Allan Stewart Mariano, as its head, and members Vimar Barcellano and Gerard Gaerlan.
 
In his petition to the CA, Mario Reyes insisted that the Ortega family has failed to substantiate claims that he gave an "initial payment" of P50,000 to Edrad to kill Ortega.
 
The Reyes brothers are believed to have fled the country last March before the issuance of the arrest warrants against them. Joel allegedly assumed the identity of a certain Joseph Lim Pe in order to slip past Philippine immigration authorities.
 
The brothers were initially reported to have been spotted in Vietnam, and were later said to have crossed to Thailand. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has already cancelled their passports as well as Lim Pe’s, and sought the help of Thai authorities in locating the siblings. — KBK, GMA News
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