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MANILA, Philippines -- The eldest daughter of murdered broadcaster and environmentalist Gerardo Ortega filed a criminal complaint on Tuesday against former Palawan governor Joel Reyes for violating the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 for allegedly using a falsified passport to leave the country.
Reyes, along with his brother Mario, the mayor of Coron town, are wanted for allegedly ordering the murder of Ortega but have so far managed to evade arrest.
The two reportedly left the country for Vietnam on March 18, nine days before a Palawan trial court issued a warrant for their arrest and five days after the Department of Justice issued a lookout bulletin against them, with the former governor allegedly using a passport in the name of Joseph Lim Pe that was issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs on February 3.
The Bureau of Immigration has relieved two officers assigned to NAIA 3 for allegedly facilitating the departure of the Reyes brothers.
The Reyes brothers have since been officially declared fugitives, placed on the “red list” of Interpol and have had their passports cancelled, including the one in the name of Pe.
In the complaint she filed before the Pasay City prosecutor’s office, Michaella Ortega said the former Palawan governor allegedly violated Sections 19 (c) par. 1 and (d) par. 2 of the Passport Act when he “knowingly used a fake passport to leave the country. He deliberately used this passport to evade our criminal justice system and to elude arrest.”
“The holder of a fake passport is presumed to be the forger of that passport. ‘When it is proved that a person has in his possession a falsified document and makes use of the same, the presumption or inference is justified that such person is the forger’,” the complaint added.
“For this, Governor Mario Joel T. Reyes should be punished.”
The complaint cited a news report that the names of “Pe,” Mario Reyes and the brothers’ lawyer, Hermie Aban were in a Cebu Pacific passenger manifest as having boarded flight 5J751 for Ho Chi Minh City at 10:50 p.m. on March 18 and the confirmation by the Vietnam Immigration Office of their arrival there on March 19.
She also cited an August 30 letter from Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Jaime Victor Ledda of the Office of Consular Affairs confirming that the department “did not issue an e-passport to former Palawan Governor Mario Joel Tolentino Reyes, but rather to Joseph Lim Pe. This passport, reportedly used by former Governor Reyes, was apparently tampered with replacing the data page of the passport with another data page containing the photograph of the ex-governor with a different signature, but retaining the name and other passport details of Mr. Pe.”
On Monday, Michaella, joined by campus journalists, media groups and supporters staged a picket before the Court of Appeals to urge the tribunal not to grant the Reyes brothers’ petition to dismiss the murder charge filed against them.
Gerry Ortega was murdered in Puerto Princesa in January 2011 but the gunman was caught as he tried to flee the scene of the crime. He confessed to the crime, leading to the swift roundup of his accomplices. The arrested suspects named the Reyes brothers as the alleged masterminds.
Despite this, a panel of prosecutors cleared the brothers and several close aides while allowing the case against the confessed hit team to continue.
When Ortega’s widow, Patria, questioned the decision, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima ordered a reinvestigation. The new panel of prosecutors overturned the earlier resolution and recommended that the Reyes brothers be charged for murder.