A Double Standard of Justice: The Gerry Ortega case

By Inday Espina-Varona


A call for Justice

Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa issued a call today, on the eve of Earth Day, to care more for Mother Nature. Meanwhile, Malacanang spits on the soul of a fallen environmental warrior. Here’s why:

A couple of months back, the nation was glued to the spectacle of government operatives barring former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from leaving the country. The incident happened in the absence of any hold order on the much-maligned former Chief Executive. There was no hold order because no court had yet issued an arrest warrant for her. In fact, no case against Mrs. Arroyo had even reached the courts yet. What the government had was a watchlist order (WLO) on President Benigno Aquino’s predecessor. This watchlist order was the subject of a Supreme Court temporary restraining order (TRO) — a TRO that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima refused to implement.

I will not discuss the merits of the TRO or the WLO — the latter the same weapon Mrs. Arroyo had wielded against her political opposition. The TRO later became part of the Aquino administration’s impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Renato Corona. Mrs. Arroyo has since been arraigned and remains in hospital arrest due to an ailment affecting the spine. The Chief Justice is still battling it out in his impeachment trial.

The administration is confident the Senate impeachment court will find Corona guilty. Majority of Filipinos think he could be guilty, but prefer to leave the decision to the sentor-judges. The latter — which has been borne out survey after survey — is not making Mr. Aquino or his allies happy. There has been plenty of talk about we, the people, waging war against the CJ in the name of Justice. But this isn’t about Mrs. Arroyo or the Chief Justice. It is about this administration’s warped view on justice. It is about amazing leaps of logic and disturbing signs that more than hint that, indeed, some in this benighted nation are more equal than others.

In January 2010, a gunman killed Palawan environmentalist Gerry Ortega. It was daylight. It was in a crowded second-hand clothes shop; Gerry was buying clothes for his offspring.

Alert townfolk managed to corner the suspect. He squealed. Shortly after, three others were arrested: two lookouts and the recruiter, Rodolfo Edrad, a former bodyguard of former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes. Edrad confessed that the gun used in Ortega’s slay belonged to Romeo Seratubias, former provincial administrator. Seratubias did not deny this during the preliminary investigation.

The Justice Department initially dismissed the charges against Seratubias, Reyes and his brother, Coron Mayor Mario Reyes Jr., and two aides. The Secretary of the Justice inhibited from the case. De Lima was once election lawyer for the former governor.

Ortega’s kin, environmentalists and media groups refused to back down. The discovery of 84 text messages between the former governor and Edrad at around the time of the murder finally forced a re-investigation. State prosecutors eventually filed murder raps against the brothers and their cohorts.

On Tuesday, the regional trial court in Palawan issued arrest warrants for Reyes and company. By that time, he had disappeared. His brother had bid farewell to fellow local politicians in Coron.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) launched a manhunt. But a day after, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo did the unthinkable. He said the government would give Reyes until the end of the week to surrender.

It was an irresponsible statement to make. There was a legitimate arrest warrant. The case was murder, under circumstances showing great willingness by suspects to ruthlessly punish their enemies. Murder is a non-bailable crime. The cops were on a manhunt, for god’s sake.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines was “aghast” at Robredo’s move.

“What Robredo is in effect doing is ordering law enforcement agencies not to obey the lawful order of the Palawan regional trial court to place the Reyes brothers under arrest and stand trial for the Ortega murder.

“What right does he have, what authority, to openly issue such an order in defiance of our laws?

“Surely Robredo knows that our law enforcers are in possession of the warrants, having already served one on former Palawan provincial administrator Romeo Seratubias.

“Neither can we imagine that Robredo is unaware that every day the warrants are not served increases the chances of the Reyes brothers escaping justice, either by actual flight or by allowing their lawyers to delay their arrest and trial.”

The following day, Thursday, Reyes came out defiant, saying he would take his sweet time.

“Haharapin ko sa takdang oras ang mga paratang at akusasyon na ito. Nandito lang ako sa inyong piling, nagtatago sa inyong puso. Hindi ko tatakbuhan ang hustisya ngunit para maiwasan ang patuloy na pang-aapi at pag-aalipusta at pagbibintang ng walang basehan,” he said.

As if that wasn’t enough of an insult against Lady Justice and Ortega’s heirs, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda — a lawyer — gave the Palace stamp of approval on Robredo’s order. If you think the DILG Secretary’s move is outrageous, Lacierda’s justification will make you puke. This morning Lacierda explained the deferment as a sign OF DEFERENCE TO HIS (Reyes’) POSITION AS A FORMER GOVERNOR.

It is breath-taking in its ignorance of the law. It is breath-taking in its display of entitlement.

As I’m ending the blog, I get word that Malacanang has turned around. The manhunt is on. Again.

That’s small consolation. But it doesn’t erase the fact that an alter-ego of the President, his spokesman no less, has given us a glimpse into their heart of darkness.




March 31, 2012 4:47 am  Tags: ,   Posted in: Justice, Media

355 Responses

  1. Ellen - March 31, 2012 5:44 am

    Statement of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

    Government abets impunity

    Now it is clear why extrajudicial murders continue to be committed with impunity in this benighted land of ours.

    It is not just because of official apathy or inaction — though there is enough of that — but rather because government allows it to.

    Proof of this is Malacanang’s readiness on Friday to agree with Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo’s decision to grant former Palawan governor Joel Reyes and his brother Mario Jr., mayor of Coron, until the weekend to surrender despite court-issued warrants of arrest against them for the murder of broadcaster Gerardo Ortega, in “deference to his (Reyes’) position as a former governor.”

    No, it does not matter that Palace mouthpiece Edwin Lacierda abruptly turned about a few hours later and declared the manhunt for the Reyes brothers on after learning that Robredo had issued a similar order after receiving a copy of the warrant on Thursday.

    The issue here is how the administration so readily stood by Robredo’s clearly illegal original decision to grant the Reyes brothers a grace period instead of doing what he is sworn to do — order their immediate arrest, no ifs or buts.

    What made it worse was that Lacierda’s initial statement was issued a day after Reyes himself, in a recorded statement broadcast by a Palawan radio station, mocked justice and the very idea of government itself, spouting defiance and saying he would not surrender but would remain in hiding, “not to run away from justice but in order to avoid the persecution, ridicule and accusations that are being thrown at me
    without basis.”

    This is no different from the defiance retired general Jovito Palparan—another former government official—displayed when he declared that he would not surrender to stand trial for the disappearance of Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan.

    And where is Palparan now? Still nowhere to be found.

    How can Malacanang explain this “deference” for a former governor, which contrasts so glaringly with the zeal it has displayed in going after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a former president no less, and to Renato Corona, the incumbent Chief Justice?

    Besides, the last time we looked, not even being an incumbent official can spare one from arrest for a crime, especially not a capital offense like murder.

    We will not even demand an explanation from Malacanang, for there simply can be no explanation, much less justification, for how it could countenance a perversion of the law and of justice.

    What we do demand is that Edwin Lacierda – who, we ought to point out is a lawyer – face the family of Gerry Ortega, who have fought so hard and so long to see those accused of his murder face trial, and tell them why this accursed government believed “deference” for a former governor so important it was willing to break the law and withhold justice for the life of a good man.

    And, yes, Lacierda should also face the families of all victims of extrajudicial murders and tell them why, in heaven’s name, they would be better off waiting in vain for this government to give them justice instead of seeking it elsewhere.

    And they have the temerity to wonder why people rebel?


    Nestor Burgos

  2. Ellen - March 31, 2012 6:14 am

    I was told by an Aquino supporter who is close to the Ortega family that a presidential sister met with Gina Lopez, who is also very close to the Ortegas, and told the latter that Gov. Reyes is innocent of the charges filed against him.

  3. saxnviolins - March 31, 2012 8:28 am

    Marcos’ rule was characterized as a conjugal dictatorship.

    This presidency is a sororal presidency.

  4. Ellen - March 31, 2012 8:37 am

    From online Bee dictionary:

    Sororal-Like or characteristic of or befitting a sister.

  5. Golberg - March 31, 2012 12:49 pm

    Sa ganitong mga pagkakataon, naaalala ko yung minsang sinabi ni Mayor Lim para dun sa mga ungas na pulis na nangupit nung ransom money “Shoot to kill na ang mga iyan.”
    Umalma naman yung human rights commission “ginagawa niyang wild wild west ang Maynila.”
    Naisip ko tuloy, kung ang due process ba ay “due” talaga o ginagago lang ito ng mga gago sa lipunan?
    Ang mga gago kasi, walang galang sa “due process” at gagamitin ang due process para makalusot sa gusot na ginawa nila. Due process – matagalang proseso ng moro-moro, matagalang proseso ng lokohan at gaguhan.
    Kapag nagtago, guilty. Kung ayaw ng shoot to kill, ipakulam na lang iyang gagong iyan.

  6. Golberg - March 31, 2012 12:52 pm

    Aasapa pa tayo sa gobyernong doble kara.

  7. TonGuE-tWisTeD - March 31, 2012 1:10 pm

    Matagal na akong duda diyan diyan kay Joel Reyes. Di naman yan mauupo yan sa Palawan kung buhay pa si Salvador Socrates. Hanggang Vice lang siya.

    Kaya naman yung eroplano ni Socrates nagcrash daw sa dagat kasama si Wescom MGen David at 10 sundalo di na nakita muli. Maliban sa isang kano, patay lahat ang sakay ng eoplano kasama na yung kaibigan kong manager sa Club Noah si Bong Mallari.

    Galing sila sa isang medical mission at pabalik na sa Puerto Princesa ng may madinig na sumabog sa PAF Nomad bago ito bumagsak ayon sa mga witness. Alam ko, kinabukasan noon ay PAF day kaya malungkot ang selebrasyon noon sa Nichols.

  8. TonGuE-tWisTeD - March 31, 2012 1:52 pm

    Nakalimutan ko pala, kuwentuhan daw sa Puerto noon pinagsususpetsahan si Reyes diyan sa pagsabog.

  9. parasabayan - March 31, 2012 2:49 pm

    Ano ba yan? Pinabayaan munang magtago si Reyes? Baka nasa ibang bansa na yun. Nag-ala Lacson at Palparan. Catch me if you can!

  10. parasabayan - March 31, 2012 2:50 pm

    Kung gusto ni Pnoy ang tuwid na daan, he should treat all villains equally. Hindi yung may pinapaboran.

  11. Ellen - March 31, 2012 3:21 pm

    Ginamit pa kami noon para kumita kay Gloria Arroyo sa Malampaya. He complained to us in media about the government jeopardizing the Philippine claim on the Spratlys by isolating the area from Palawan, which was true.

    When Arroyo probably gave him his due share,tumahimik na. I felt used. Nawalan ako ng gana.

  12. Ellen - March 31, 2012 3:27 pm

    Tongue, Maj. Gen. Santiago Madrid.


    My cousin-in-law, Sandra Nietes, and her two kids, were also in that plane. She was a doctor. The husband, my cousin, was with the Philippine Air Force.

  13. TonGuE-tWisTeD - March 31, 2012 7:32 pm

    Sorry, pinatay ko si Gen David. hehehe. Kasama pala yung cousin-in-law mong taga WESCOM pati mga anak. I’m still unsettled, were the bodies ever recovered?

    Mabait kasi yung si Socrates, minsang nakita niya akong nag-iisa sa cottage sa isang resort, inimbita niya akong sumali sa grupo niyang nag-iinuman. Naging instant kaibigan niya ako. Ilang beses pa kaming nagkita sa El Nido at Sta. Isabelle, kung ituring niya ako ay parang matagal nang kaibigan. Siya pa tumatawag sa akin pag may project. Kita mo naman, nung namatay nasa medical mission.

    Itong si Reyes, mamamatay ito sa shoot-to-kill operation.

  14. saxnviolins - March 31, 2012 7:54 pm

    Ellen: Your second link says:

    “Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo issued that statement (that enforcement of warrant will be deferred) before they received the warrant of arrest with the hope of Governor Reyes surrendering,” Lacierda explained.

    “But when the DILG received the warrant of arrest yesterday (Thursday) morning, Secretary Robredo immediately issued an order to effectuate the arrest warrants of Governor Joel Reyes and Mayor Mario Reyes. There are now DILG teams investigating the leads on Governor Reyes’ whereabouts,” he added.

    Ganyan na ba? The secretaries have to have the hard copy before they effectuate any order from a local court? Di ba Manila colonialism yan?

    Wala ba silang tiwala sa local bosses who said, Sir may warrant of arrest from the Judge. Kung wala, ang dali namang tumawag sa Judge. I’m sure the Judge will entertain a call from Manila colonialists.

    Kung nangyari yan kay Robredo while he was Mayor, would he have agreed? Would he have complained? Now that the shoe is on the other foot, …..

    Nakalimutan na yata ni Robredo ang puso ng isang local gov official. Manila should support the local govs, not second guess them, or doubt them. Ang default thinking dapat, when in doubt, trust the local gov official. He has his eyes and ears on the ground. Manila knows little or nothing about local situations.

    Bigyan ng diatabs or imodium yang si Lacierda. He is suffering from diarrhea of the mouth.

  15. Ellen - March 31, 2012 8:08 pm

    SnV, ikaw naman, they were just looking for an excuse to delay the arrest.

    Also, Lacierda had to justify the turn-around which they did only because NUJP issued a strong statement.

  16. saxnviolins - March 31, 2012 9:19 pm

    Were I the Mayor, isa lang ang gusto kong marining.

    Robredo: You have my full support to enable you to do your job. Anong kailangan mo? Tao? Ilan?

    Logistics? Kailangan mo ng chopper? Okay. Will talk to the DND Sec and the Air Force.

    Pera? Okay. I-advance mo from your funds. Will wire your needs today to PNB. Kukunin ko sa aking intelligence funds.

    When the Hong Kong tourist fiasco occurred, and lusot, local daw, show ni Mayor Lim, kahit may tourista.

    Ngayon, sawsaw agad ang Manila. Double standard nga.

    Teka. Reyes? Alam kong maraming Reyes sa bansa. But isn’t the Ate of Cory married to a Reyes (owner of FEU)? Namesake lang ba? Or is that the connect to the sister?

  17. Ellen - March 31, 2012 9:49 pm

    Teka. Reyes? Alam kong maraming Reyes sa bansa. But isn’t the Ate of Cory married to a Reyes (owner of FEU)? Namesake lang ba? Or is that the connect to the sister?-SnV

    I’m not sure but I heard distant relative.

  18. Jake Las Pinas - March 31, 2012 11:01 pm

    PMAer ba si Gov. Reyes?

  19. olan - April 1, 2012 7:39 am

    kung matino ang mga prosekyutors at ang hudikatura kahit ano pa sabihin ng mga bigatin sa gobyerno o ano mang impluwensya uusog ang hustisya…o cge kunsintihin at ipagtanggol ulit..onli in the pilipins

  20. chi - April 1, 2012 9:34 pm

    “This morning Lacierda explained the deferment as a sign OF DEFERENCE TO HIS (Reyes’) POSITION AS A FORMER GOVERNOR”.

    Exempted sa batas dahil ex-governor? Outrageous!

    “It is breathtaking in its display of entitlement”.

    101% agree. They do as they pleased like gods. What are they in power for? Same ol same ol!

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