Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer,  13 January 2018


There are very few times that I agree with President Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque, and fewer times with Solicitor General Jose Calida, but stranger things happen. Where do we agree? In Roque’s instance, where he described the Court of Appeals (CA) decision in the Joel Reyes case a “travesty of justice,” and in Calida’s instance, where he said “it stinks.” Well said, Roque and Calida.

I must say, however, that Roque should not have spoken. He was the lawyer of the Ortega family in the case.

That CA decision has to epitomize the truth of a statement attributed to former national security adviser Jose Almonte: that the Philippines has the best justice system that money can buy. It is not even a question of having good and pricey lawyers. It is about direct transactions with the decision-makers, who can be depended upon to justify their decisions even if it means turning logical cartwheels and relying on technicalities.

Although sometimes, very rarely, you get class acts, like Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who demonstrated recently that not all principles have gone out of the window, and can still trump convenience and self-interest.

But back to the CA. It dismissed the murder case against former Palawan governor Joel Reyes (this can still be appealed, thank goodness) because, it said, the testimony against him was riddled with inconsistencies. So no probable cause, insufficient evidence.  And the CA considered it a “miracle” that it was able to prevent this miscarriage of justice against the former governor. A load of bollocks.

Let me refresh your memory, Reader, by culling my numerous columns (in this newspaper and in Business World) on the subject over a period of a year following the assassination of Gerry Ortega, broadcaster, environmentalist, corruption whistle-blower, in an ukay-ukay store in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, on Jan. 24, 2011.

Almost immediately, by sheer serendipity, his killer, Marlon Recamata, was caught and readily confessed, naming his accomplices—Dennis Aranas (lookout), Armando Noel (recruiter/lookout), and former Marine Rodolfo “Bumar” Edrad Jr. (acknowledged team leader).

The four were from Quezon, did not know Ortega, but were provided with pictures of him. Who hired them? Edrad named Joel Reyes and coconspirators Mario Reyes (Joel’s brother and mayor of Coron) and former Marinduque governor Antonio Carrion.

It was Edrad’s testimony that the CA found dubious. Hah. It was full of details, including where and when he was given—by Governor Reyes—pictures of Ortega and the “mobilization” fund to recruit the perpetrators, because Reyes told him (Edrad) that he should not do the “trabaho” (job) because they were too close, and Reyes might be implicated. Edrad’s testimony also included information that on the afternoon of the slaying, Edrad went to the house of Mayor Reyes in Alabang to receive P500,000 as the remainder of the payment for the killing.

Reyes claimed none but the most casual acquaintance with Edrad. Just somebody he would give “balato” (bonus) to and “pambigas-bigas” (money to buy rice with). Really? Then why were there 41 texts sent from Reyes’ cell phone to Edrad’s cell phone from December 2010 to early February 2011 (two months), and 16 texts from Reyes to Edrad on Jan. 24, 2011 (the day Ortega was killed), alone? This list of texts was provided by Globe under subpoena from the National Bureau of Investigation. How does the CA explain that? Edrad also mentioned an aborted assassination attempt on Ortega during the Christmas holidays.

That Edrad went to the house of Mario Reyes in Alabang on the afternoon of the killing, the latter admitted. But he claimed that he gave Edrad only P5,000, while Edrad said he was given P500,000. Reader, do you think Edrad would rent a van and come all the way from the province of Quezon to Alabang in Muntinlupa just to collect P5,000?  The van rental would cost more.

Moreover, the gun that was used to kill Ortega was purchased from the provincial administrator of Joel Reyes. And the Reyes brothers fled the Philippines on fake passports, and were fugitives for three years, until they were arrested by Thai police.

All of these.  And Joel Reyes is free.

The best justice system that money can buy.