OSG asks SC to lift TRO suspending arrest of alleged brains behind Gerry Ortega’s slay

File photo: Former governor of Palawan Joel Reyes (right) and his brother Mario after being arrested in Thailand in September, 2015. (AP Photo)

THE Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has asked the Supreme Court (SC) to lift the temporary restraining order (TRO) it issued enjoining the Puerto Princesa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) from implementing an arrest warrant against Mario Joel T. Reyes. Reyes is the former governor of Palawan accused of masterminding the killing of broadcaster Gerry Ortega.

In a 62-page comment filed on April 1, 2022, the Office of the Solicitor General also sought the dismissal of Reyes’s petition for review on certiorari. That petition seeks to reverse and set aside the November 28, 2019, amended decision of the Court of Appeals’ Special Former Eleventh Division. The CA has ordered the Puerto Princesa City RTC, Branch 52, to reinstate the murder case against Reyes and issue a warrant of arrest against the former governor.

The CA’s amended decision reversed and set aside its first decision issued on January 2018, which dismissed the murder case.

The appellate court held that the trial court did not commit grave abuse of discretion when it found probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest against Reyes.

“The CA’s first decision presented a fragmented analysis of the evidence, isolating each piece of evidence and concluding that it alone does not prove probable cause,” the OSG said. “Contrary to the findings in the CA first decision, and as correctly found by the Court of Appeals in the CA amended decision, the circumstances and facts on record support a finding of probable cause against petitioner, for several reasons.”

Reyes has been charged with murder along with his brother, former Coron town mayor Mario Reyes, and 8 others for the death of Ortega.

Ortega, a known critic of Reyes, was gunned down in front of a thrift store in Puerto Princesa City on January 24, 2011.

Fourteen months later, on March 2012, the trial court ordered Reyes’s arrest, despite his move to suspend the murder case and recall the warrant of arrest.

This prompted Reyes to assail the RTC ruling before the appellate court, citing the trial court’s reliance on the “uncorroborated statement” of a witness: his bodyguard Rodolfo “Bumar” Edrad.

Aside from Edrad’s affidavit, the CA cited the sworn statements of Arwin Arandia, who claimed to have been initially hired by Edrad to kill Ortega; and Dennis Aranas and Marlon Recamata who also confessed to being paid to kill Ortega. Recamata was convicted in 2013.

“Respondent People of the Philippines most respectfully prays that this Honorable Court: lift the temporary restraining order enjoining the [RTC], Branch 52, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, from implementing a warrant of arrest against petitioner and from conducting further proceedings in Criminal Case No. 26839,” the OSG through Senior State Solicitor Henry Gerald P. Ysaac Jr. and State Solicitor Dianne Margarette T. delos Reyes-Gonzales pleaded.

It also urged the SC to “order the immediate re-arrest and detention” of Reyes pending final trial and resolution of the murder charges against him.

In a resolution issued last March 23, 2022, the SC issued a TRO against the implementation of the arrest warrant and from conducting further proceedings in the murder case pending the final resolution of his petition seeking to set aside the CA’s amended decision.

State prosecutors argued there is clear basis for the RTC’s issuance of a warrant of arrest against Reyes, citing the lower court’s finding that there is strong evidence of petitioner’s guilt in the murder of Ortega.

“The RTC’s finding of strong evidence of petitioner’s guilt has, in turn, been affirmed by the Court of Appeals in its decision dated July 9, 2021. With due respect to this Honorable Court, these consistent findings by the RTC and the Court of Appeals superseded and mooted the issue of probable cause,” the OSG said.

The government lawyers asserted that the high bench should order the re-arrest of the petitioner and allow the continuation of the trial proceedings on the ground that the RTC’s issuance of the warrant of arrest against the petitioner is supported by legal and jurisprudential basis, rather than arbitrary and unfounded conclusions.

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