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12:50 AM November 29th, 2012

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By: Conrado R. Banal III, November 29th, 2012 12:50 AM

“Scary!!”

The word, including the two stunning exclamation points, is a direct quote from the recent ruling of the Court of Appeals on the much-publicized case involving former Palawan Governor Joel T. Reyes and his brother, the incumbent mayor of Coron (Palawan), Mario Reyes Jr.

According to earlier banner headline reports, the Department of Justice charged the Reyes brothers for the two-year-old murder of a block-time radio commentator in Palawan named Gerry Ortega.

The screaming headlines also proclaimed the Reyes brothers as fugitive from justice, since they reportedly went into hiding, fleeing the country even, when the RTC in Palawan issued a warrant for their arrest.

In a decision penned by the acting chair of the CA Special Fifth Division, Associate Justice Leoncia Real-Dimagiba, the court voided the murder charges filed by the DOJ, ruling that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had committed grave abuse of discretion.

Thus, the CA in effect cancelled the arrest warrant against the Reyes brothers. What do you think—will the Reyes brothers now return to the country and, possibly, even actively take part in the interesting local politics in Palawan, following the CA ruling?

I can only say that, perhaps, some political bigwigs in Palawan must be fuming mad with this new development in the case of the Reyes brothers, particularly Joel Reyes, the former governor, during whose term Palawan received from the national government billions of pesos in its share from the government royalty in the Malampaya gas fields.

From what I heard, the case between the Palawan local government and the national government involving the sharing of the royalty would soon be resolved. In other words, the Palawan provincial government can now expect a bonanza worth billions upon billions of pesos.

Anyway, the CA noted that De Lima, as DOJ secretary, must follow the procedures set by her own department. “Otherwise the vast power of the Secretary of Justice would be susceptible to abuse.” And the CA decision added: “Scary!!”

Actually, without mincing words of tender loving care for De Lima, the CA ruled that she had committed grave abuse of discretion when she created a “second” panel of investigators in connection with the Ortega murder case.

As we all know, the “first” panel created by De Lima to conduct preliminary investigation of the murder case—actually—cleared the Reyes brothers.

The two were implicated in the case by the gunman that—by some lucky twist of pure coincidence—was caught right after the shooting of Ortega in Puerto Princesa City. He was apprehended by policemen from another town who happened to be in the city to withdraw money from an ATM machine near the murder scene.

The “first” De Lima panel, as I said, threw out the confession of the gunman who pointed to the former governor, Joel Reyes, as the mastermind of the murder.

Subsequently, amid much print and broadcast media coverage, the Ortega widow asked De Lima for a review of the decision of the “first” panel, saying that she discovered some new evidence to corroborate the confession of the gunman.

The CA noted that De Lima did not decide on the request of the Ortega widow for a review of the findings of the “first” panel. Instead, the CA noted, she created a “second” panel. The CA then faulted De Lima for her action, tantamount to abuse of discretion.

To top it all, as indicated in the CA ruling, in her order creating the “second” panel (known as Department Order 710), De Lima did not cite any compelling reason for the creation of the “second” panel of prosecutors.

In short, basta!

The CA thus voided the decision of the “second” panel to charge the Reyes brothers, plus two other individuals, with the murder of the radio commentator, saying that the “second” panel itself also committed “grave abuse of discretion, amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.”

Actually, as a background, when De Lima created the “second” panel, the lawyer of the Reyes brothers, named Demetrio Custodio Jr., wrote her to clarify its authority.

De Lima replied that the “second” panel was not meant to set aside the decision of the “first” panel that cleared the Reyes brothers of the murder complaint. The task of the “second” panel, according to De Lima, was only to look into the supposedly “additional” evidence presented by the Ortega widow.

All of a sudden, even before De Lima could make a decision on the request of the Ortega widow to review the findings of the “first” panel, which, as I said, cleared the Reyes brothers, the “second” panel overturned the very same findings.

In other words, as the CA noted, there were already two separate proceedings on the same case, namely, the appeal of the Ortega widow for a review, and the brand-new re-investigation being conducted by the “second” panel.

The decision of the “second” panel then created a chain of events, leading to the issuance by the Palawan RTC of the arrest warrant against the brothers. Screaming headlines subsequently labeled the brothers as fugitives from justice.

The CA ruled that the “second” panel actually erred in its findings, because it relied on the written confession of the gunman and his accomplices that implicated the Reyes brothers.

The CA even noted “conflicts” in the details of their written confessions, while the CA said there were even no new evidence presented to the “second” panel, except some documents stating that there were text messages sent by the alleged gunman to the former governor of Palawan, Joel Reyes, who even questioned whether the supposed new evidence was admissible in the case.

Now, the contents of the supposed text messages were never shown. Really, just how easy is it to text anybody in the whole wide world? Every day we receive all sorts of hard-sell texts from credit cards, loan sharks and even scam artists from Nigeria.

Anyway, such a question on their admissibility should have been the coverage of the “review” of the decision of the “first” panel, which De Lima should have done, instead of creating a “second” panel.

The case here is not just an ordinary jaywalking case or something. As the CA noted, it involved a capital offense: murder. In fact, it was supposedly a big-time conspiracy.

The CA ruled: “Conspiracy cannot be taken lightly; it must be established by positive and convincing evidence. Further, for two or more extra-judicial confessions to be admitted as circumstantial evidence to show the probability of participation of the persons implicated, the same must be identical in their essential details and must be corroborated by other evidence on record.”

In other words, the “second” panel was wrong.

Preliminary investigation, according to the CA, should work two ways: one, to establish sufficient ground for somebody to be put on trial and, two, to protect the innocent against what the associate justices called “hasty malicious and oppressive persecution.”

It is to do justice—less to prosecute.

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