Four years after a Filipino radio activist and prominent environmentalist was murdered, two most-wanted suspects have been arrested…
Former Palawan governor Joel Reyes and his brother Mario fled the country after they were implicated in the murder of Gerardo Ortega.
Joel and Marjo Reyes arrived in Palawan, handcuffed and escorted by police. Joel is the former Palawan governor while Mario is the former town mayor of Coron.
The two men are suspected of murdering journalist and environmentalist, Gerardo Ortega – a claim Joel denied to the press.
“The reason we came home is because we want to ask the court for a fast resolution of the case so we can put an end to this story. So that real justice can be achieved not only by us but also by the Ortega family,” Joel said.
Ortega was critical of Joel Reyes when he was governor – accusing him of pocketing millions of pesos from a natural gas project and mining activities in Palawan.
After Ortega was murdered in 2011, the Reyes brothers left the country.
Branded as wanted fugitives, the government put a bounty of 50 thousand US dollars each for their capture.
Reyes says they have long wanted to return home, but the government canceled their passports.
“I don’t want to go home as a dead man. The people of Palawan have loved me and they know me and they know that I never would have done what I am accused of. We will prove that in court now,” he added.
Reyes claims they fled not because they were guilty but because they feared for their lives. He says the charges are political and they were framed.
But the Ortega family believes otherwise – claiming all evidence points to the Reyes brothers.
Patty Ortega is the widow of the victim. “We will not stop fighting this and I think our judiciary system is fair enough to let this proceed in court and that is what I am hoping for and praying for.”
The Reyes brothers are facing charges of murder and despite their previous positions, the justice department says there will be no special treatment.
But Patty Ortega is worried the case might be dismissed by a mere technicality.
“We have to fight for this. Since the beginning, only the gunmen are convicted, not the mastermind…We have to fight for justice and we don’t want the culture of impunity to go on,” she said.
Impunity is a regular feature in all media killings in the Philippines. Activists say journalists continue to be murdered as the government lacks political will to thoroughly investigate.
Redempto Anda, a member of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines says the case has to continue.
“This case has already dragged on for so long. There are a lot of intervening legal issues that have hampered the progress of the case to resolution. Right now the issue is on a very early stage just because the lawyers of governor Reyes are not even dealing with the merits of the evidence. They want to avoid trial.”
Anda says there is a high chance of conviction because the gunmen and others involved in planning the murder confessed the Reyes brothers hired them.
However, the lawyer for the Reyes brothers says his clients have been unjustly maligned.
“The most pressing issue is the negative impression of people arising from what happened in the past throughout the years, because people think that a person charged is already guilty. That does not work under our system of law because a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, the common person will look at it that the Reyes brothers are already guilty because of the publicity that has been hounding them,” Demy Custodio said.
There are also speculations about the timing of the arrest, just before elections next year. Some have speculated the Reyes brothers may even try and run for office if they are cleared of wrongdoing.
For now though, the government has instructed prosecutors to ensure the brothers are behind bars during the trial.