MANILA – Even as the family of slain broadcaster-environmentalist Gerry Ortega is still reeling from the Court of Appeals order freeing the suspected murder brains Joel Reyes, watchdog groups are readying protests to slam what they deem another blow for impunity.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said it is “appalled by the Court of Appeals ruling that has allowed the release of former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, who, with his brother Mario, former mayor of Coron town, is suspected of masterminding the January 2011 murder of broadcaster, environmentalist and good governance advocate Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega.”
Like the family of Ortega, the NUJP said it had yet to obtain a copy of the decision, but quoted news reports quoting Reyes’ lawyers as saying the CA has prohibited the Palawan Regional Trial Court Branch 52 from proceeding with the case against the former governor.
“We do note that avenues remain for Doc Gerry’s family, friends and colleagues to seek to right this grievous wrong and we will continue to stand with them and support the continued struggle for justice and free expression,” said the NUJP in a statement Sunday.
“We cannot, we will not, stand idly by and allow this to be another entry in the long and painful history of impunity in this country,” NUJP vowed.
In a separate statement, the human rights watchdog Hustisya noted that the CA order came just weeks before the seventh anniversary of Ortega’s killing.
“The seven long years of injustice to Dr. Gerry Ortega and his family is further severed by the release order of Palawan ex-governor Joel Reyes. The courts have become appendage to the culture of impunity in the country under Duterte,” Hustisya said in a statement issued by Evangeline Hernandez.
“It took three years to arrest the Reyes brothers who went into hiding, and one day to simply junk all bases and evidences that point to them as the murderers of Ortega. We are one with the Ortega family in asking how has it come to this, wasting years that they have attained justice for the killing of Doc Gerry,” said Hernandez, chairperson of Hustisya.
Hustisya said it is gearing for actions to continue demanding justice for Ortega and other victims of extrajudicial killings under previous regimes and under Duterte.
The group scored what they called an “open season for acquittals and releases of murderers and perpetrators.”
Citing the acquittal of Maj. Harry Baliaga, accused in the abduction of Jonas Burgos, and now Reyes, the group said,
“Under Duterte, impunity is at its best in shattering any hope that rights violators will be brought to justice.”
Hernandez explained that families of victims of killings want justice as much as the families of these few prominent cases, like that of Ortega.
“For us, they might not be the murderers of our children, spouses, or kin, but they represent the thousands of killings that have not reached as far as putting the perpetrators to jail. If such a case as Ortega’s or Burgos’ cannot attain justice, what more the poor Filipinos who fall victim to killings, to abductions, and other violations?” explained Hernandez.
The group appealed for support against the culture of impunity under the current regime.
Ortega’s family, in a statement issued Saturday afternoon, said they were stunned by the news of the CA ruling.
“We have not received the copy of the decision yet. We will need time with our lawyers to study it and plan our next move,” said the statement by Ortega’s widow Patty and daughter Mika.