In this season of victory and loss, among the prominent losers are two brothers who had thought nothing of again seeking public office despite being charged with murder. Joel Reyes, former governor of Palawan, and his younger brother Mario Reyes, former mayor of Coron, had filed certificates of candidacy for mayor and vice mayor of Coron, respectively, despite being indicted for the murder on Jan. 24, 2011, of broadcaster and environment activist Gerry Ortega. Both brothers failed in their effort to once more enjoy big-guy titles, but that’s not the noteworthy issue in this chapter of their saga.
It seems that when no one was looking, when everyone was distracted by the then looming elections, Palawan Judge Angelo Arizala granted Mario Reyes bail of P500,000 for his temporary liberty. At this writing, Judge Arizala has yet to issue a separate ruling on Joel Reyes’ own bail petition.
People who have not forgotten the brazen murder of Ortega wonder how Mario Reyes could qualify for bail considering the gravity of the crime in which he had been implicated, as well as the very real risk of flight that he and his brother had previously demonstrated.
Rodolfo Edrad Jr., alias Bumar, a hired-gun-turned-state-witness, identified the Reyes brothers as the brains behind the murder of Ortega in Puerto Princesa City.
Ortega had been recounting over his radio program details of a report by the Commission on Audit on the alleged misuse of billions of pesos in Palawan’s share from the Malampaya gas field royalties.
Following their indictment for the murder pulled off in broad daylight, the brothers managed to flee the country in March 2012. (How they did it indicated their advantaged position.) For three years they lived as fugitives—until their capture in Phuket, Thailand, where it was discovered that they had been living it up, allegedly under the protection of a powerful drug lord. The brothers, according to an informant, stayed in a villa and tooled around in a sport utility vehicle; they had even planned to put up a fitness center.
The brothers were extradited to the Philippines in September 2015.
Given the brothers’ history of flight and influence even overseas, how could Mario Reyes have been allowed bail? It was in Judge Arizala’s very court where Edrad, Mario Reyes’ former bodyguard, reiterated his claim during direct examination that it was Joel Reyes who had ordered him to devise a plan to execute Ortega.
Despite eyewitness accounts on the brothers’ involvement in the crime, their case languished in court because they were nowhere to be found for three years. After their capture and extradition last year, the Supreme Court ordered the Palawan court in January to proceed with their trial. And then on May 6, Mario Reyes was granted bail in a ruling that the Ortega family has described as “a disappointment.”
Indeed, a halfway interested observer might ask: Why do the brothers get such special treatment? When they were flown to the Palawan capital shortly after their arrest in Thailand, they were whisked to the court of Judge Bayani Usman, who immediately issued a commitment order.
Despite that, the brothers were allowed by the warden of the city jail, Supt. Don Paredes, to speak with reporters —surely a privilege not granted other accused. Their prison quarters were as exceptional: a newly painted jail cell measuring 5 x 3 x 8 meters with a double-deck wooden bed, a toilet and two windows. In justifying these arrangements, Paredes said the brothers had to be separated from the other inmates “because of their classification as high-risk” prisoners.
In his interview with reporters, Joel Reyes glossed over his and his brother’s escape, insisting that they voluntarily surrendered to Thai authorities and that they were innocent of the charges. They were “also searching for justice like the Ortega family,” but had to flee because of “threats” to their life, he said.
The bail granted Mario Reyes surely smacks of privilege, in direct contravention of the Constitution under which, as Interior Secretary Mel Sarmiento quotes, “there is an equal-protection clause. It doesn’t distinguish the rich from the poor.”
Perhaps this is a case for the attention of Rodrigo Duterte, the presumptive winner of the presidential election? Perhaps it is a test of his resolve to stamp out crime and its resulting injustice?
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