Why CA dismisses ex-Palawan governor's murder case vs environmentalist?
The Court of Appeals has dismissed the case of former Palawan governor Mario Joel T. Reyes, who allegedly masterminded the killing of Dr. Gerardo Ortega, an environmentalist and radio commentator in the province, because there was "no evidence" for finding probable cause to indict him.
In a 24-page decision of the 5-man Special Division of the appellate court on January 4, Associate Justice Normandie B. Pizarro, who penned the decision, found "inconsistencies" and "contradictions" on the statements of the witnesses, particularly Rodolfo O. Edrad, the self-confessed coordinator of the plan to kill Ortega.
Ortega was shot dead in San Pedro, Puerto Princesa City on Jan. 24, 2011.
"The Information in Crim. Case No. 26839 insofar as Mario Joel T. Reyes is concerned is dismissed and the RTC (Regional Trial Court), Fourth Judicial Region, Br. 52, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, is prohibited/barred from further proceeding with the case," Pizarro said.
He said the CA found that Puerto Princesa RTC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess of jurisdiction when it ruled that there exists probable cause for the issuance of warrant of arrest against Reyes "who was merely implicated" by Edrad as a con-conspirator in Ortega's killing.
He said the RTC "heavily relied on the prosecution witnesses' sworn statements. Such reliance, however, was misplaced."
Aside from the sworn statement of Edrad, alias, Bumar, no other fact and circumstances connect Reyes to the crime, Pizarro said.
He also cited that the witnesses' statements were "riddled with inconsistencies" and "more on contradictions."
The inconsistencies that the court noted was the period when the supposed plot to kill Ortega was made in late 2010.
Pizarro cited "another mind-boggling contradiction," wherein the two other witnesses failed to mention the statement of Edrad regarding the chase made to them by six armed men and the latter dropped his belt bag containing the remaining P300,000 from the P500,000 allegedly gave by Reyes.
"As shown above, Edrad is not a credible and trustworthy witness. Considering the material inconsistencies and discrepancies, his testimony on vital matters of this case casts grave doubt, nay, destroys his credibility," Pizarro said.
"To reiterate, Edrad is not a credible witness...Edrad's sworn statements cannot, therefore, be validly used as evidence against the petitioner because of, and as it is against, the principle of re inter alios acta," Pizarro said.
The rule on inter alios acta provides that the rights of a party cannot be prejudiced by an act, declaration, or omission of another.
The CA did not subscribe to some "circumstantial evidence" that the Office of the Solicitor General cited that would warrant Reyes' involvement in Ortega's murder.
Pizarro said Ortega's criticisms in his radio program against the local government, including Reyes, did not establish the latter's involvement in the killing.
"Criticism alone is too trivial a reason to murder somebody," he said.
Even Reyes' close relationship with Edrad does not automatically mean that he authored Ortega's killing, he said, noting, "Mere relationship, association, or companionship do not establish conspiracy."
The supposed text message communication between Reyes and Edrad did not also establish the petitioner's involvement in the crime, he said.
"It would be absurd to conclude that if an accused was in constant communication with another person, the latter would automatically become co-conspirator of the former. Such conclusion is a hasty generalization," the justice said.
On the giving of financial assistance, he said it does not follow that when one gives financial assistance to another, the underlying motive behind such assistance is for the latter to commit crime for the former.
On the death of Dennis Aranas, one of the self-confessed participants in Ortega's murder, while in prison, Pizarro said it remains an unsolved police matter and should not be imputed upon anyone or the petitioner.
On Reyes' flight, he said it is not per se always synonymous with guilt especially so if the above premises are considered.
Reyes and his co-accused brother Mario, former mayor of Coron, Palawan, left the country in March 2012 months after they were indicted for the murder of Ortega. They were arrested in Phuket, Thailand in September 2015.
On Reyes' alleged use of fake passport when he left the country, Pizarro said it may be considered a separate legal matter.
He explained that in criminal law, as in the case at bar, "the inculpatory facts are capable of two or more explanations, one consistent with the innocence or lesser degree of liability of the accused and the other with his guilt or graver responsibility, then the evidence does not fulfill the test of moral certainty and the Court should adopt that explanation which is more favorable to the accused."
"As there is no basis to sustain a finding of probable cause, the petitioner should be shielded from this senseless suit," Pizarro said.
He also said that even Edrad's previous label as a "state witness" during the prosecutorial stage would and is definitely be without legal basis as he not anymore the least guilty but, if at all, the "most guilty."
With the decision, Pizarro, however, said that the appellate court does commiserate with the departed loved ones, and for the untimely death Ortega.
"Our unending prayers for his departed soul but our hands are tied by our bounded duty to administer justice and abide by the law. No evidence, no conviction. So be it," he said.
As to Reyes, he called their decision as a second chance or miracle for the former official, who was spared from at least 20-year imprisonment.
"Call it a second chance afforded him by God, or a lucky three-point play for him to use a common street lingo or a miracle in his favor, the petitioner must by all means be exonerated from the charge. This Court could only hope that he would take advantage and give full-faith and meaning to his second lease on life given him. He is definitely saved from the 20 year or so imprisonment metable to the offense charged," he said. Celerina Monte/DMS