Get Real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 26 August 2011


Remember Gerry Ortega? He was the broadcaster, environmentalist, and corruption whistleblower, not to mention veterinarian (the source of his bread and butter so he could engage in his advocacies), who was killed in broad daylight in Puerto Princesa, shot at the back of his head while he was buying clothes from an ukay-ukay store (which shows that he was not an envelopmental journalist).

In case the reader has forgotten, some reminders: By a stroke of luck, Ortega’s assassin, Marlon Recamata, was apprehended minutes after the slaying, and readily confessed to the crime. He named his accomplices:  Dennis Aranas (the lookout), Armando Noel (who recruited the killer and the lookout), and Rodolfo “Bumar” Edrad Jr., a former Marine and the acknowledged team leader. The lookout was captured, the other two surrendered, almost immediately.

They all admitted participation. Edrad, in his confession, pointed to former Palawan Gov. Joel T. Reyes as the mastermind, and as co-conspirators former Marinduque Gov. Antonio Carrion and Coron Mayor Marjo Reyes (Joel’s brother).

Further investigation implicated: lawyer Romeo Seratubias, Joel Reyes’ legal officer and provincial administrator, who owned the gun used to kill Ortega; Percival Lesias, a photographer in the office of Vice Gov. Fems Reyes (Joel’s wife) who bought the gun from Seratubias; Arturo Regalado, a close-in security of Joel Reyes, who gave Lesias the money to buy the gun from Seratubias, then got the purchased gun, and gave it to the group of Recamata.

The point of these reminders is that the gun used to kill Ortega was associated in one way or another with Joel Reyes.

Edrad’s testimony was full of details, including where and when he was given (by the former governor) the “mobilization” fund (of recruits). Edrad said Reyes told him not do the “trabaho” because they were too close, and Reyes might be implicated. Edrad also said that on the afternoon of the slaying, he went to the house of Mayor Marjo Reyes to collect (and receive) P500,000, the remainder of the payment for the killing.

It must have been a very convincing story, as told to the National Bureau of Investigation in the presence of Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn, to whom Edrad surrendered (about three weeks after the killing). Enough, anyway, to convince the Department of Justice to include him in its Witness Protection Program.

And that is why what the DOJ did next—or at least the panel of prosecutors appointed to look into the complaint of Ortega’s wife Patria Gloria against Reyes et al.—was so unexpected. Even as it found probable cause for murder against Edrad and the actual slayers, the panel dismissed the case against Reyes and his associates for “insufficiency of evidence.” This was on June 8, 2011, four months after the panel was formed.

Since the murderer and his accomplices had already confessed soon after the killing, the finding of probable cause against them was a no-brainer. But finding no probable cause against Reyes et al.? How could that be?

News reports said Edrad went berserk when Reyes and his associates were exonerated by the DOJ panel. I heard and read Edrad’s reaction, and it certainly had the ring of truth and righteous anger: How could he be indicted, while the people who had ordered and paid him to do it, were exonerated? I had also followed the news reports, and when the murder weapon was traced to a trusted aide of Joel Reyes, I thought it was an open-and-shut case.

But I wanted to read the DOJ resolution itself. When I got a copy recently, I read it, and my reaction was one of disbelief. So I asked my husband Christian to read it too—and he went one step farther: he looked at the Supreme Court decision cited by the DOJ panel to justify the exclusion of former Governor Reyes. His opinion? The panel of prosecutors stretched their interpretation of the decision.

I leave it to the lawyers to argue (and they are doing it). Mrs. Ortega has filed a motion for partial reconsideration, and another motion to reopen the preliminary investigation. Me, I can only say that the prosecution panel, composed of Edwin Dayog, Bryan Jacinto Cacha, and John Benedict Medina, should be ashamed of themselves. They not only stretched their interpretation of a Supreme Court decision, they went through all sorts of gymnastics to make it appear that the confessions presented had inconsistencies of a fatal nature. And believed without question the testimonies of Reyes et al. Sickening.

Just consider (from the extrajudicial confessions) two things: Neither Edrad nor the actual killer, Recamata, nor his lookout/recruiter, etc., knew Ortega. They had to be provided pictures (from Joel Reyes to Edrad to the rest). They had no motive for killing Ortega—other than that they were hired to do so. The question therefore that should have been posed was: Who hired them? If Edrad pointed to Reyes, and so many people around Reyes seemed to also have been implicated, shouldn’t that have been sufficient grounds for probable cause?

On the day of the killing, Edrad and two other plotters traveled in a rented van from Lucena, Quezon, to the house of Mayor Reyes in Ayala Alabang, where the latter gave him an envelope containing P500,000. Reyes does not deny the incident, but says the amount he gave to Edrad was only P5,000. Question: Does it make sense that Edrad would hire a van for at least an 8-hour trip just so he could get P5,000? You have to be stupid to say it does. But that’s exactly what the DOJ seems to believe.

The farce must be stopped.