Release of Ortega killer shows rule of law for the elite, injustice for the poor

“For moneyed and corrupt officials, the courts find ways to perform ‘miracles’ to decide in favor of murderers, while the poor and the oppressed either rot in jail, or are met with bullets. The recent decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) to release former Palawan governor Joel Reyes is not only questionable, but is indicative of a justice system that operates on a double standard,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay on the CA decision to release Reyes, the main suspect for the murder of journalist and environmental activist Gerry Ortega.



Gerry Ortega was shot dead in Puerto Princesa, Palawan on January 24, 2011. Brothers Joel Reyes and Mario Reyes, former Palawan governor and former Coron mayor respectively, were implicated in the killing of Ortega. The latter exposed corruption in Palawan, accusing Joel Reyes of misusing government funds from the operations of the Malampaya gas and oil fields in the said province. A warrant of arrest was issued for the Reyes brothers in 2012, but not before they were able to leave the country using fake passports. They were apprehended in Thailand on September 2015, 4 years after the killing of Ortega.

On January 5, 2018, the CA issued a decision that led to the release of Joel Reyes. The said ruling nullified the findings of probable cause and the issuance of the arrest warrant by the regional trial court.

Palabay added that “After his release, Joel Reyes commented that the Ortega family should ‘respect the rule of law’, referring to the CA decision. The rule of law is convenient for the murderers who benefit from the law’s distortion. There was no rule of law when Gerry Ortega was killed, nor was there such for other victims of extrajudicial killings during the past and current administration or for plunderers like the Marcoses and Gloria Arroyo.”

The Karapatan secretary general also cited other decisions of the Court of Appeals showing that ‘the rule of law is a privilege accorded to the rich and poweful’. She noted the CA’s decision to reverse the conviction of Janet Napoles for serious illegal detention, as well as the CA’s recent reversal of a local court’s decision to allow Filipina death row inmate Mary Jane Veloso to be deposed as witness against her recruiters. Palabay also mentioned the January 3, 2018 ruling of the CA which affirmed its earlier decision to dismiss a petition by martial law victims to enforce a Hawaii court ruling which awarded them a $2 billion compensation to be sourced from Marcos’ estate. The CA resolution on Napoles’ acquittal and on the dismissal of the martial law victims’ petition were both authored by CA Justice Normandie Pizzaro.

“This mockery of justice, using the country’s own courts, is a neon sign pointing to the country’s flawed justice system. Karapatan joins the Ortega family in calling on the CA to overturn its decision releasing Reyes, and in exhausting all means to exact accountability from murderers who have used the the State’s resources and their positions to silence opposition to its anti-people policies and programs. The murder of Ortega and the years of injustice that followed thereafter is telling of the many cases of human rights defenders victimized by the government,” Palabay concluded.