Hustisya, NUJP ‘appalled’ at ruling exonerating ex-governor Reyes

Various groups condemned another Court of Appeals Special Division decision last week, this time allowing the release of one of the accused masterminds of the killing of a crusading broadcaster in Palawan seven years ago.

Human rights group Hustisya and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in separate statements expressed indignation over the CA Special Division’s January 4 decision written by its former chair Associate Justice Normandie Pizarro.

“We are saddened and enraged at the hasty release of Reyes. It took three years to arrest the Reyes brothers who went into hiding, and one day to simply junk all bases and evidences that point to them as the murderers of Ortega,” Hustisya chairperson Evangeline Hernandez said.

“The NUJP is appalled by the Court of Appeals ruling that has allowed the release of former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, who, with his brother Mario, former mayor of Coron town, is suspected of masterminding the January 2011 murder of broadcaster, environmentalist and good governance advocate Gerardo ‘Gerry’ Ortega, the NUJP for its part said.

News reports earlier quoted Reyes’ lawyers as saying the appellate court has prohibited the Palawan Regional Trial Court Branch 52 from proceeding with the case against the former governor.

An Inquirer report said the special division ruled that the Puerto Princesa RTC abused its discretion when it decided there was probable cause to charge Reyes of involvement in the killing of Ortega.

“Call it a second chance afforded him by God or a lucky three-point play for him, to use a common street lingo, or a miracle in his favor, (Reyes) must by all means be exonerated from the charge,” the report said.

The appellate court said the sworn statement of Rodolfo Edrad alias Bumar’s testimony used by the lower court in ordering the arrest of the Reyeses was riddled with “inconsistencies” and “contradictions” making him “not a credible and trustworthy witness.”

Sources also said the three associate justices of the CA Special Division voted in favour of releasing Reyes while two members dissented.

The CA also promulgated two other controversial decisions last week—the prohibition of convicted drug mule Mary Jane Veloso in Indonesia and the disallowance of compensation to martial law victims from recovered ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family.

The NUJP said it will not allow the development to be another entry in the “long and painful history of impunity in this country.”

“We do note that avenues remain for Doc Gerry’s family, friends and colleagues to seek to right this grievous wrong and we will continue to stand with them and support the continued struggle for justice and free expression,” the NUJP said.

Hustisya for its part said it is gearing for actions to continue demanding justice for Ortega and other victims of extrajudicial killings under previous governments and the current administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“We call for public support in the cause against impunity. This is the injustice and impunity that we should fight together. We attain justice in not letting the perpetrators escape accountability and public clamor to make them pay for their crimes,” Hernandez said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)