CA junks murder raps vs ex-Palawan gov

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - The Court of Appeals on Wednesday, March 20, junked the murder case filed against former Palawan Gov Joel Reyes in connection with the murder of broadcaster Gerry Ortega, according to a decision obtained by Rappler.

The court also nullified the panel created by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the case.

Ortega was shot dead in January 2011 in Puerto Princesa.

The court's Special Tenth Division invalidated a resolution of the DOJ which created a second panel that investigated the death of Ortega.

Voting 3-2, the CA said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima committed grave abuse of discretion when she issued Department Order No. 710 in 2011.

Justice Angelita Gacutan penned the decision. Those who concurred were Justices Fernanda Peralta and Francisco Acosta. Justices Noel Tijam and Romeo Barza dissented.

The second panel - composed of prosecutors Stewart Mariano, Vimar Barcellano and Gerard Gaerlan - found probable cause to charge Reyes with murder in March 2012. Their findings run contrary to the resolution of the first panel, which dismissed the complaint against Reyes for insufficient evidence on June 8, 2011.

The CA said De Lima should have first acted on the petition for review filed by Ortega's wife, Patria Gloria Inocencia. In the said petition, Mrs.Ortega questioned the June 2011 resolution of the first panel.

De Lima's options

The CA pointed out that De Lima could have just modified, reversed or affirmed the resolution of the first panel instead of creating another one.

"But instead of doing so and in brazen disregard of the said rules of procedure, she let the second Panel of Prosecutors run its course and ignored the pending Petition for Review Ad Cautelam filed by Patty Ortega which was already on appeal before her," the CA said.

The CA added that since De Lima has not yet reversed or modified the findings of the first panel, the findings are still valid. Reyes, the Court said, should not have been indicted for murder.

"Had she only followed the rules, the chaotic situation as narrated above could have been very well avoided," the CA said.

The CA also raised that Department Order No. 710 did not accord the second panel the power to modify the findings of the first panel. The CA said the second panel could only make recommendations.

The CA ruling came 4 months after another division - the CA Special Fifth Division - also invalidated the said DOJ resolution upon the filing of a petition by Coron Mayor Mario Reyes. -