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Accused murders of Gerry Ortega arrested

MANILA (Agencies) : The arrest of the high profile Reyes brothers, who are accused of being behind the murder of environmental and anti-corruption advocate, Gerry Ortega, on 24 January 2011, brings fresh hope that his family and friends may achieve justice, Bishop Pedro Arigo, from Puerto Princesa, told CBCP News on September 22.

“It brings a sigh of relief,” Bishop Arigo said. “Because we know that influential people can get away scot-free even with crimes like murder.”

The former governor of Palawan, Joel Reyes, and his brother Mario Reyes, a former mayor of Puerto Princesa, have been charged with the murder of Ortega. 

They initially had fled to Vietnam when warrants were issued for their arrest, but were picked up in Thailand on September 20.

The bishop said it is high time the Reyes brothers faced the charges and took the opportunity to prove their innocence or have their guilt proven in court.

The two went missing in 2012 after an arrest warrant for them was issued.

The president of The Philippines, Noynoy Aquino, also offered a two million peso ($364,000) reward for the arrest of the murder suspects.

Bishop Arigo is hoping the government will speed up the prosecution process in the trial of the Reyes brothers.

He said that there is enough evidence to link the two to the killing of Ortega, who had presented strong evidence of their corrupt practices.

“I hope that the trial will be fair and just,” the bishop concluded.

At a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong on 9 November 2009, Ortega said that according to the law, 40 per cent of royalties from the widespread mining operations on Palawan should be handed over to the local government and, of the remaining 60 per cent national government share, 80 per cent is required to be spent in the province on defraying energy costs and the remaining 20 per cent on development.

“However, a lot of it is going into road construction,” he explained, “and the standard corruption costs eat up around half of that. So mining becomes a way for politicians and officials to get quick pesos into their pockets.”

Ortega became the 142nd media person to be murdered in The Philippines since 1986 and the third since Aquino had come into Malacañang in July 2010.

However, to list his murder, which took place in the market place in Puerto Princesa City on the island province of Palawan as just another statistic, is to do a severe disservice to the dignity of the life of the slain person.

Ortega was gunned down as he was buying clothes in a busy market and died on the floor of the stall in a pool of his own blood.

At the time, CBCP News quoted Artiso Mandawa, the chairperson of the Ancestral Land Domain Watch Network of Palawan, as saying, “Ortega was a human rights and environmental advocate. For the past 11 months, he has been very vocal against mining; he also exposed bribery in the government, especially in the endorsement of mining.”