“Not doing so will only paint a picture that the capture of the Reyes brothers under Justice Secretary Leila De Lima is a mere publicity stunt.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Environmentalist groups called on Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to first resolve the petition for review of the 2011 murder case of environmentalist and broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega before she resigns from office to run for the 2016 elections.
The suspected masterminds — former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes and his brother, former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes – are now in detention in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, following their arrest in Phuket, Thailand on Sept. 20, after four years of hiding.
However, the groups Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and the Task Force-Justice for Environmental Defenders expressed concern that the case may be dismissed on a technicality.
“While the arrest is better late than never, the window of opportunity for a decisive swing in the prosecution of the Reyes brothers is precariously small,” said the groups in a joint statement. The groups blamed the Aquino administration for “four years’ worth of inaction” over the case, which allowed the suspects to leave the country “and sabotage the legal actions against them.”
Ortega was shot dead on January 24, 2011. In 2013, a senate inquiry found that Ortega’s killing could be linked to his exposes on the overpriced construction projects funded by proceeds from the Malampaya gas project in Palawan.
De Lima has announced plans to run for senate in 2016. The groups said the case may be cancelled by technicality if De Lima resigns without ruling on the petition for review of the case, pending at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The petition for review was filed by Ortega’s wife Patricia, in June 2011, following a decision by a DOJ panel absolving the Reyes brothers for insufficient evidence. De Lima, instead of acting on the petition for review, issued Department Order 710, which formed a second panel, which then indicted the Reyes brothers in January 2012. A Puerto Princesa regional trial court then issued an arrest warrant for the Reyes brothers.
The Reyes brothers have filed petitions at the Court of Appeals (CA). On November 24, 2012, the CA Special Fifth Division nullified the second DOJ panel’s indictment of the Reyes brothers, saying that De Lima violated the rules of court and of DOJ, by creating the second panel.
On March 19, 2013, the CA Special 10th Division issued a similar ruling, placing on De Lima the responsibility to rule on the Ortega widow’s petition, to indict the Reyes brothers or not.
In the same year, the DOJ filed a petition with the Supreme Court, following the CA’s denial of their motion for reconsideration. De Lima stood by the decision of the second panel.
In October 2014, the CA Special 1st Division junked a petition by the Reyes brothers, asking the court to prevent the DOJ from ruling on the petition for review.
De Lima, said in a report that the DOJ cannot yet rule on the petition because it will weaken their petition with the Supreme Court.
“We know the strategy of the Reyes brothers had been hedged on technicalities. This is exactly what they want,” said the environmentalist groups.
The groups said that De Lima should also “ensure that she leaves behind mechanisms to effectively fast-track the Ortega case and all other pending cases involving our fellow environmentalists and activists.”
“Not doing so will only paint a picture that the capture of the Reyes Brothers under De Lima is a mere publicity stunt. It will tarnish any future endeavor of Sec. De Lima with the questionable track record of being unable to effectively resolve any of the outstanding 86 cases of political and extrajudicial killings against environmental advocates,” said the groups.
The environmentalist groups also noted that De Lima previously served as the Reyes’ private election lawyer, which “further cast a shadow of doubt on her motives.”
In 2013, the conviction of the gunman, Marlon Recamata, was hailed by Human Rights Watch, being the first conviction in a case of extrajudicial killing under Aquino. The HRW still called on government to prosecute the masterminds of the killing.
Recamata was caught fleeing the crime scene. He pointed to Rodolfo Edrad Jr. as the one who hired him and three others. Edrad later surrendered to authorities and confessed that the masterminds were former governor Reyes and former Marinduque Governor Jose Antonio Carreon, whom he used to work for as security aide.
The Task Force-Justice for Environmental Defenders (TF-JED) has documented 50 environmentalists killed under President Aquino. The group recorded a total of 86 killings of environmental activists since 2001.