Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Tuesday said the government would oppose the pending petition of wanted murder suspect and former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes to lift the arrest warrant against him, describing such request as still "premature."
In an interview with reporters, De Lima said the Justice Department still plans to file a motion for reconsideration, hoping to reverse a recent Court of Appeals ruling that cleared Reyes after invalidating the findings of a second panel that investigated him and found probable cause to charge him in court for the killing of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerardo "Gerry" Ortega in 2011.
"I am sure the prosecution will oppose that by citing the fact that it is still not final and executory because we still have the right to file motion for reconsideration," De Lima said.
Over the weekend, Reyes' legal counsel Ferdinand Topacio said their camp has already sought the lifting of the arrest warrants against the former governor and his co-accused brother, Coron Mayor Mario Reyes.
The Reyes brothers allegedly left the country before the issuance of the arrest warrants against them. The two have been reportedly spotted in Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia since allegedly leaving the country in March last year.
“The issue of the lifting of the warrant of arrest against Gov. Joel Reyes is a matter of judicial discretion, as in fact, there is now a pending motion to that effect filed by the lawyers of Gov. Reyes before the trial court, which the government prosecutors are free to oppose," Topacio had said in a statement.
But De Lima insisted the Reyes camp's petition with the trial court was premature, adding that in case the government's reconsideration bid gets denied, it still has the option to elevate the case to the Supreme Court.
"Hindi namin yan basta pababayaan kasi it will affect future cases. There will be dire consequences on the authority of the [Justice secretary]. Kung iki-clip ang powers ng Secretary of Justice, ano pa ang silbi ng isang SOJ di ba," De Lima said.
In its ruling penned by Associate Justice Angelita Gacutan, the CA Special 10th Division voted 3-2 to grant Joel Reyes' petition for certiorari that sought to invalidate De Lima's Department Order 710, which created the second panel that reviewed and eventually found probable cause to indict the Reyes brothers for murder.
A DOJ panel headed by State Prosecutor Edwin Dayog had already cleared the Reyes brothers and four other suspects for insufficiency of evidence in a June 8, 2011 resolution.
On Sept. 7, 2012, however, De Lima formed a new panel and re-opened the case through DO 710, which modified the first panel's resolution and implicated the Reyes brothers in the killing.
The Reyes brothers, who have repeatedly denied the accusation and said their political opponents were behind the charges, went into hiding when the second panel came out with its findings.
In the new ruling, the appeals court ordered the DOJ to reinstate the findings of its first panel that cleared the Reyes brothers. However, it remains unclear whether the ruling nullifies the warrants of arrest issued against them, which were based on the findings of the second panel.
In the re-investigation, the second panel considered additional evidence presented by Ortega's daughter Michaella, including documents containing supposed text messages between Joel Reyes and another suspect, Rodolfo Edrad Jr., from December 2010 to January 24, 2011, the day Ortega was killed.
Another piece of evidence was a compact disc containing recordings of Ortega's radio commentaries against the ex-governor.
In its latest ruling, the CA said that instead of forming a second panel of investigators, De Lima should have reviewed the case herself, something which she did not do in violation of the rules of procedure.
"Instead of doing so and in brazen disregard of the rules of procedure, she (De Lima) let the second panel of prosecutors run its course and ignored the pending petition for review ad cautelam filed by Patty Ortega (spouse of the victim) that was already on appeal before her. This is a clear showing of wanton disregard of the rules of procedure and applicable jurisprudence," the CA had said.
"She should have acted on the petition for review ad cautelam (Latin for "as a precaution") filed by private respondent and should not have allowed the second panel of prosecutors to proceed on its task considering further that the promulgation of Department Order No. 710 is legally infirmed to begin with," the ruling said.
But De Lima said she wondered why it was only that the judiciary was questioning a DOJ secretary's moves to create second panels on certain cases.
"Eto na naman, mga previous SOJs occasionally... exercises plenary authority by doing things like that by creating panels or changing panels (pero) ngayon lang naisipan gawin yan... bakit kaya," De Lima said.
De Lima also noted how close the vote (3-2) was in Reyes' petition at the CA, adding that she agreed more with the CA justices who dissented the majority ruling.
"Mas realistic, mas practical at mas consistent with the dictates of justice yung view ng mga dissenter so premature yon," De Lima said.
Earlier, De Lima stressed that she merely practiced her "broad authority" when she chose to create a second panel on Sept. 7, 2012 instead of acting on the petition for review.
"Sabi nila [CA justices], it create[d] chaos. I beg to disagree. I don't think there will be chaos or that a chaotic situation came up as a result of the creation of the second panel because I wanted the panel to consider the new pieces of evidence that was being proffered then by the complainants," De Lima had said.
Under the rules of procedure, the only time that the Justice secretary may intervene in an ongoing probe of a DOJ prosecutor or a panel of prosecutors is when a party files a motion for reconsideration of petition for review.
"But there are times that I am compelled to step in and take certain actions in order to prevent a miscarriage of justice," De Lima said. — RSJ, GMA News