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Justice delayed in the name of due process

A cell phone registered to former Palawan Gov. Joel T. Reyes (last four digits 2222) sent 16 text messages to the cell phone of former Marine Sgt. Rodolfo “Bumar” Edrad on Jan. 24, 2011. This information, which was shared with me by Palawan NBI Director Ros Bautista, was a list of daily text messages sent through that phone number, together with the time sent and cell phone recipients from December 2010 to early February 2011, in chronological order. This list, provided by Globe under subpoena from the NBI, showed a total of 41 messages in that almost two-month period from the Reyes cell phone to the Edrad cell phone.

If the above information, combined with all the other evidence gathered by the NBI investigators, is still not sufficient to establish in the minds of the Department of Justice panel that there is “probable cause” (not guilt, mind you) that Reyes was involved in the murder of Gerry Ortega, nothing else is.

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I met Bautista a couple of days ago, at the third hearing of the DOJ re-investigation (I am not sure what the legal term is) into the assassination of Ortega, the Palawan broadcast journalist/environmentalist/veterinarian, in the morning of Jan. 24, 2011.

The re-investigation was ordered by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. I don’t have a copy of that order, but it must have been because De Lima was dismayed at how the original DOJ panel of investigators – Edwin Dayog, Bryan Jacinto Cacha and John Benedict Medina – stretched the limits of credulity in order to reach the conclusion that while there was probable cause to file murder charges against the actual slayers of Ortega (who were caught within minutes of the shooting) and against Edrad (who surrendered to the authorities and admitted to having hired the killer and his lookout), there was no probable cause to file murder charges against Reyes. Edrad had pointed to Reyes as the mastermind who had paid him P500,000 for the job, not to mention other incriminating evidence showing Reyes’ involvement.

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It could also be that De Lima was responding to the public uproar that followed that finding or some combination of both. Ortega’s eldest daughter Mika has been faithfully keeping me abreast of developments.  I met Mika and her mother Patty for the first time two days ago.

I also met for the first time Edrad who expressed again his outrage at how his principals (Reyes, et al.) were exonerated by the DOJ’s preliminary investigation. He reiterated that neither he nor his companions even knew Ortega (they had to be shown pictures of the victim by Reyes). He also recounted to me what was said when he met with Reyes, how Reyes wanted the deed done during the Christmas-New Year celebrations so that the gunfire would be masked by firecrackers, and how the first assassination attempt was aborted. I also met, as mentioned above, NBI Palawan’s Ros Bautista, whose sincerity and determination are a credit to the NBI, which is very often reviled.

The highlight (or lowlight) of the proceedings, to me, was a contretemps featuring the lawyers of the accused (Reyes, et al.) that was so ridiculous, it set me to laughing. Here’s what happened (the words may be different, but the sense is the same).

The purpose of the hearing was for the Ortega lawyers to introduce into evidence recordings of Ortega’s radio “exposés” against Reyes to show why the latter would have a motive for ordering Ortega’s murder. This had been agreed on in the previous hearing. After the usual verbal skirmishes, the CD was finally presented, together with a very thick written transcription, and the technician who made the recordings duly sworn and certified. Apparently, it would take five hours to listen to the CD.

Then the fun began. A Reyes lawyer complained about the voluminous transcriptions, and, citing rules of evidence, proclaimed that only relevant evidence can be introduced. So he asked that the transcriptions be marked to show the relevant portions where Ortega was attacking Reyes in his radio program. This, to ensure that the rules of evidence were followed, and to spare the defense lawyers the time required to read the whole transcript and to listen to the five-hour tape to isolate the animadversions against their client.

The Ortega lawyer then pointed out that the five-hour CD and its transcription indeed contained only the portions of Ortega’s broadcasts critical of Reyes. At which point, the Reyes lawyer insisted that the utterances in the CD may have been taken out of context, and that they (defense) must be provided with the complete set of broadcasts and their transcriptions, which of course would require even more postponements and more reading/listening time – moving the Ortega lawyer to remonstrate at the obvious delaying tactics.

The DOJ panel then tried to be Solomonic and decided that the proceedings would be postponed, but the CD would be heard at the next hearing.

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Nothing daunted the opposing lawyers who suggested that the CD be heard in one-hour slices, since the concentration span of listeners was only about 15 minutes. Before the discussion could deteriorate further, the DOJ panel put its foot down and declared that the CD would be heard in its entirety.

And Patty and Mika Ortega, having flown in from Palawan with the radio technician, will have to fly themselves back to Palawan, and then back to Manila – at great expense. While the lawyers earn more fees. And justice is delayed. All in the name of due process.

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TAGS: Gerry Ortega, Get Real, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, opinion, Palawan Gov. Joel T. Reyes, Solita Collas-Monsod
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