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MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 3 - 5:08 p.m.) Just hours after agreeing to give former Palawan governor Joel Reyes until the end of the week to surrender despite a court-issued warrant of arrest, Malacanang did an abrupt turnaround and declared the manhunt was on for the principal suspect in the murder of Puerto Princesa broadcaster and environmentalist Gerardo Ortega.
Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo had immediately ordered the manhunt for Reyes and his brother, Mario Jr., mayor of Coron town as soon as he received a copy of the arrest warrant on Thursday, two days after it was issued by a Puerto Princesa court.
It was also on Thursday that a Palawan radio station broadcast a recorded statement from Reyes saying he would not surrender but remain in hiding.
On Wednesday, Robredo said he was giving the Reyes brothers until the week’s end to surrender, a position Lacierda said earlier Friday the Palace supported “out of deference for his (Reyes’) position as a former governor.”
“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.
“Hopefully, as a government official he will be responsible enough to surrender voluntarily but once he fails to show up in the weekend then we will enforce the warrant of arrest,” Lacierda said earlier.
Reacting to Robredo’s earlier statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines demanded that police “ignore this clearly illegal order … and fulfill their sworn duty by arresting the Reyes brothers.”
Robredo: We will look harder
On Friday, Robredo said authorities would intensify their search for Reyes.
"We will intensify efforts to get him. Hiding will not help his case," Robredo said in a text message.
Robredo said authorities have checked two places in Muntinlupa City and Laguna where Reyes was reportedly hiding, but these turned out negative.
A daylong stakeout on Reyes' Dasmarinas Village, Makati City home on Wednesday also proved futile.
Robredo said Reyes could still be in the country since Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has ordered immigration authorities to keep a lookout for him and his co-accused in case they attempted to leave the country.
Philippine National Police spokesman Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz Jr. also said tracker teams have already been deployed to look for Reyes, but withheld further information.