13 March 2012

The Panel of National Prosecution Service (NPS) Prosecutors, created pursuant to Department Order (D.O.) No. 710, S. 2011, in order to conduct a reinvestigation into the killing of Dr. GERARDO V. ORTEGA last 24 January 2011, has promulgated a Resolution modifying the findings of the first panel of prosecutors, particularly insofar as the latter found no probable cause to charge six (6) of the ten (10) named

After the reinvestigation and evaluation of the evidence adduced by both parties, the new Panel arrived at the conclusion that the additional evidence offered by the complainant are relevant in appreciating other pieces of evidence previously submitted by the parties during the first preliminary investigation, and that such additional evidence are sufficient to modify the initial findings of the previous panel.

In that regard, although the Panel upheld the finding of probable cause against those previously indicted for Murder, namely, Edrad, Noel, Aranas and Arandia, it reversed the finding of insufficiency of evidence to likewise charge respondents former Palawan Governor MARIO JOEL T. REYES ("MJT Reyes"), incumbent Coron, Palawan Mayor MARIO T. REYES, JR. (MT Reyes, Jr.), former Palawan Provincial Administrator ROMEO SERATUBIAS, MJT Reyes's close-in security ARTURO REGALADO, and VALENTIN LECIAS.

Particularly as to the Reyes brothers, the Panel stated that, under the circunlstances, their statements "are unreliable since they run contrary to human experience." It noted that though they denied any close associations with Edrad, such was weakened by their admission that, indeed, Edrad went to MT Reyes, Jr.'s house in Ayala Alabang, Muntinlupa to receive money. The Panel explained that regardless of the amount, whether it was P500K, as claimed by Edrad, or merely P5K, as claimed by the respondent-brothers, the fact remains that respondent MT Reyes, Jr. handed him money and it was done at the sanctity of his house in the middle of the night.... Thus, at this instance, the straightfonvard statement of respondent Edrad seems more believable than respondents' Reyes's denial .."

Furthermore, evidence in the form of outgoing text messages from MJT Reyes's mobile number to Edrad's mobile number shows that MJT Reyes sent Edrad fifteen (15) messages in December 2010 and twenty seven (27) in January 2011. In fact, on the day Dr. Ortega was killed, on which date MJT Reyes was out of the country, sixteen (16) out of the eighty-four (84) text messages sent by MJT Reyes from the subject mobile number were addressed to Edrad's. The Panel observed that "it runs counter to human experience for someone to communicate as frequent (sic) as respondent MJT Reyes did to respondent Edrad ... unless they have other important matters to discuss during that period." It also noted that "in spite of the special rates and/or higher rates of sending text messages from abroad, they still communicated "with each other," thus bolstering the conclusion about the apparent "importance of their communications."

The Panel also found it "hard to imagine that the [considerable amount of money used to finance the plan to kill Dr. Ortega] came from the pockets of respondent Edrad, given his financial status and the fact that he has no motive to kill the victim, unless he is induced by another person who has the financial capability to shell-out that amount of money and ... has motive to have the victim killed." Based on evidence on record, the Panel believed that "[i]n this case, respondent MJT Reyes has both."

Respondent Seratubias is being charged as evidence shows that the gun used to kill the victim was licensed under his name and because, "[g]iven his academic background and credentials, it is hard to imagine that he casually sold his .45 Caliber Pistol to another without executing the necessary documents for its valid transfer of ovvnership and registration." As in the case of Regalado and Lecias, the Panel observed that "the plan could not have successfully pushed through without their participation" or the firearm that was easily obtained from respondent Seratubias.

As to respondent JOSE ANTONIO N. CARRlON, former Marinduque Governor, who allegedly first mentioned to Edrad the plan to eliminate two mediate practitioners in Palawan, the Panel found that there was no sufficient evidence to charge him as, other than Edrad's admissions, no independent evidence was presented to prove he was part of the conspiracy. The dismissal, therefore, of the complaint against Carrion, as ruled upon by the old panel, was affirmed by the new panel.

It is believed that the radio commentaries of Dr. Ortega, who is also known as a keen environmental activist, against respondent MJT Reyes, whose administration of the Provincial Government was criticized vvith involvement in corruption in the bidding out and awarding of mining concessions in the province, as well as misuse of public funds coming from the Malampaya Gas Project, served as motive for the conspiracy to murder him.

The Panel also found that his killing was attended by the qualifying circumstancesof treachery, consideration of price, reward or promise and evident premeditation. Hence, an information charging MTJ Reyes, MT Reyes, Jr., Seratubias, Regalado and Lecias with the crime of Murder, as defined and penalized under Article 248 paragraphs (1), (2) and (5), shall be filed today with the Regional Trial Court of Puerto Princesa.

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