Contrary to earlier reports (including by this paper, which it has since corrected), the decision by a special division of the Court of Appeals to dismiss the murder case against former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, in connection with the killing of broadcaster Gerry Ortega in January 2011, was not unanimous.
Two members of the five-person division — Associate Justices Maria Filomena Singh and Marie Christine Azcarraga
Jacob — were in strong dissent.
They wrote separate opinions opposing the appeals court’s Jan. 4 decision, written by Associate Justice Normandie Pizarro, that not only ordered authorities to release Reyes from the Puerto Princesa city jail, but also directed the Regional Trial Court in the city to stop all further proceedings against him.
Pizarro’s decision, concurred in by Associate Justices Danton Bueser and Victoria Paredes, was altogether “premature,” protested Singh.
Pizarro had written that Reyes “must by all means be exonerated from the charge” because the main evidence against him — the sworn statement of Rodolfo Edrad Jr., alias Bumar, who testified that, upon Reyes’ order, he had hired a gunman, Marlon Recamata, to assassinate Ortega — was riddled with “inconsistencies” and “contradictions,” making Edrad “not a credible and trustworthy witness.”
But how could Pizarro arrive at such a conclusion, Singh argued, when no trial has yet commenced to look at the evidence more thoroughly?
“Where no trial has been conducted, there is even no certainty that [this] evidence will be utilized and offered by the prosecution,” she pointed out in her 18-page dissenting opinion. “The assessment of the credence and weight of these statements in the majority opinion is thus clearly premature and cannot be the basis for ascribing grave abuse of discretion to the RTC.”
Singh also demolished Pizarro’s contention that the evidence linking Reyes to the other conspirators in the case was weak. Recamata as well as fellow accused Arwin Arandia and Armando Noel Jr. all executed sworn statements tying Reyes to Ortega’s murder, she noted.
Even Reyes’ own brother and coaccused, former Coron mayor Mario Reyes — who had joined his sibling as a fugitive from justice for three years, hiding out in a plush resort in Phuket, Thailand—had admitted to sending money to Edrad “upon the instruction” of his brother on the day Ortega was killed.
Justice Jacob also assailed the majority decision for its seeming haste to exonerate Reyes by sifting through the evidence itself. “The court, at this particular stage of the proceedings, cannot arrogate [unto] itself the task of dwelling on factual and evidentiary matters,” she wrote.
The RTC, she added, did not err in ordering Reyes’ arrest based on probable cause, since the RTC’s task was to ascertain the “probability, not the certainty” of Reyes’ involvement in the murder of Ortega, a known critic of Reyes’ governorship.
That certainty would have been determined at the trial, but that path to finding justice for this heinous crime is now closed after Pizarro’s shocking decision to absolve Reyes, and in the most startling language yet.
“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 …,” Pizarro wrote generously of his own ruling.
The odd solicitousness for Reyes didn’t end there: “This court,” Pizarro added, “could only hope that he would take advantage [of] and give full faith and meaning to this second lease on life given him. He is definitely saved from the 20-year or so imprisonment metable to the offense charged.”
If only Pizarro and his two concurring colleagues gave full faith and meaning as well to the facts that, as Singh argued, tell a “clear story — that [Reyes], as former governor of Palawan, prima facie ordered the killing of Dr. Ortega.”
There is no miracle here, only a gross miscarriage of justice.
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