DOJ orders probe to verify Mercado’s link with Reyes brothers

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Tuesday, October 6, that she has ordered the Witness Protection Program (WPP) to verify reports linking ex-Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado with two former Palawan officials who are facing murder charges for the killing of broadcaster Gerry Ortega.

According to reports, Mercado was among the people that former Palawan governor Joel Reyes and ex-Coron mayor Mario Reyes contacted while they were in hiding in Phuket, Thailand.

The former Makati vice mayor is under the WPP because he has been testifying before the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee investigating the corruption allegations against Vice President Jejomar Binay over allegedly anomalous deals and projects in Makati.

“I’ve heard about it but I told [the] WPP office to check if the allegation has basis. You know, WPP matters are very sensitive. We cannot be acting on the basis of certain that are still unverified,” said de Lima.

The Reyes brothers are implicated in the murder of Ortega, who was shot at point-blank range in 2011. (READ: Timeline: Gerry Ortega murder case)

They remained in hiding for 3 years in Thailand until Thai immigration officers arrested them for overstaying on September 20. (READ: Emails, villa photos led to Reyes brothers’ arrest)

Five days later, the Philippine police brought the brothers back in the country and flew them to Puerto Princesa, where Joel and Mario are currently facing their murder charges. (READ: Gov't to probe alleged special treatment of Reyes brothers)

A report by the Philippine Star said that prior to their arrest, the Reyes brothers made contact with several business associates, including Mercado.

Whistleblowers Association of the Philippines (WAP) president Sandra Cam then called for Mercado’s expulsion from the WPP.

"I am calling for his expulsion from the WPP of the DOJ (Department of Justice) because as far as I know sa WPP, hindi dapat gumagamit ng cellphone ang witnesses. Dapat tanggalin si Mercado because he was aiding and communicating with a fugitive," Cam told reporters on October 5.

(I am calling for his expulsion from the WPP of the DOJ because as far as I know, sa WPP, witnesses should not be using cellphones. Mercado should be removed because he was aiding and communicating with a fugitive.)

De Lima said, however, that the accusations against Mercado should be proven with concrete evidence first before she could grant Cam’s request for a probe.

Pending petitions

While Cam had asked the DOJ to remove Mercado from the WPP, she said she would prefer if the Senate or the House of the Representatives would lead the investigation on Mercado, as she doubts the impartiality of the DOJ.

Meanwhile, Ortega’s relatives previously asked de Lima to resolve their pending petition for review seeking the reversal of the decision of the first panel of prosecutors to dismiss the murder complaint filed against the Reyes brothers before de Lima steps down to run for senator in 2016.

The DOJ’s second panel of prosecutors found probable cause to charge the Reyes brothers with murder.

However, the Court of Appeals (CA) nullified the resolution issued by the DOJ and also declared as illegal the creation of a second panel to review the findings of the first panel of prosecutors.

The justice department is currently awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on its petition to reverse the CA ruling.

De Lima said this is what is stopping her from immediately acting on the request of the Ortega family. –