PNP lauded for Reyeses’ Thai arrest

 PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III congratulated the Philippine National Police for “its landmark accomplishment” of capturing the fugitive brothers, former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, after the two arrived from Thailand, where they were arrested by Thai police in Phuket.

“On behalf of the national leadership I would like to extend the commendation of President Aquino to the PNP under Director Gen. Ricardo Marquez for the landmark accomplishment,” newly appointed Interior Secretary Senen Sarmiento said Friday.

Back from Thailand. Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento presents the Reyes Brothers, the main suspects in the killing of environmentalist Gerry Ortega, to reporters in Camp Crame on Friday. Andrew Rabulan

“The arrest of brothers Joel and Mario Reyes is the initial victory of the law enforcement pillar of [the] criminal justice system... In the end justice has been effectively served,” Sarmiento said.

Wanted for murder and on the run for three years, the brothers were arrested in Phuket for violating Thai immigration laws on Sept. 20.

The brothers arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 at 3:08 a.m. Friday aboard a Philippine Air Lines flight that left Thailand at 11 p.m. Thursday.

 Under heavy guard and handcuffed, the Reyes brothers were immediately taken to the PNP’s Camp Crame headquarters in Quezon City, where they arrived at 3: 57 a.m.

Chief Supt. Victor Deona, head of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, said the brothers were arrested by the Royal Thai Police for violating the kingdom’s immigration laws, but the PNP provided them the information about where the brothers were hiding.

The two slipped out of the country last March 18, 2012 aboard a Cebu Pacific flight bound for Vietnam even before Palawan Regional Trial Court Branch 52 Judge Angelo Arizalda could issue warrants for their arrest for the 2011 murder of broadcast journalist Gerry Ortega.

Deona said the PNP had several leads on where the brothers were holed up, but it was only on Feb. 4 when the Royal Embassy of Thailand communicated with its Philippine counterpart and confirmed the entry of the Reyes brothers into Thailand.

On Sept. 8, the PNP received an e-mail from an anonymous informant who told them the brothers were hiding in a villa in Rawai on the southern portion of Phuket.

The Thai police and Interpol later confirmed their presence in the villa and the brothers were arrested.

On Sept. 21, the CIDG sent a five-member team to take custody of the brothers from the Royal Thai Police.

At the press conference, the fugitive brothers were presented to journalists, but they were not allowed to make any statements. Reporters were also not allowed to ask them any questions.

The brothers were booked at the CIDG, then taken to the airport for a 1:10 p.m. flight to Palawan, where they will be presented to the court that issued their arrest warrants.

Marquez on Friday said the police escort would ensure that the brothers were taken without incident to wherever the Palawan court would have them detained.

Sarmiento added that no special privileges would be accorded them in jail.

The Palace said the legal proceedings against the Reyeses would proceed even without Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who is widely expected to run for the Senate next year, and who bid farewell to her staff Thursday.

“Regardless of who occupies the position of Justice Secretary, it is imperative that the case must be pursued,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

At the same time, deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte dismissed an allegation by whistle-blower Sandra Cam that De Lima and the Reyes brothers were friends.

“We have no comment on another of Cam’s claims,” Valte said.

The Ortega family on Friday pressed the Justice Department to act promptly on the case.

The family, through laywer Alex Avisado, said their quest for justice did not end with the arrest of the Reyes brothers.

Avisado urged De Lima to act before she leaves office to resolve their petition for review questioning the first resolution of prosecutors who dismissed the murder charges against the Reyes brothers.

He added that upholding the indictment of the Reyeses would remove questions on De Lima’s impartiality, since she was an election lawyer for the former governor.

“We believe that the higher demands of substantial justice should compel the DoJ secretary to adopt a different position in order to avoid any suspicion that she could be protecting the Reyes brothers as the former counsel of Gov. Joel Reyes,” the lawyer said in a statement.

He also lamented De Lima’s recent pronouncement that her hands were tied by the department’s pending petition in the Supreme Court against an appeals court ruling in 2013 that cleared the brothers.

The Court of Appeals ruling nullified the Justice Department’s creation of a second panel of prosecutors that recommended the indictment of the Reyes brothers.

“If we resolve the petition for review, we will have to withdraw our petition in the SC,” De Lima said.


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