Ortega family
Gerardo Ortega, who criticized local officials in his reporting, was killed in January 2011.

Ex-official accused in Philippine journalist murder

New York, March 13, 2012–After reviewing evidence in the 2011 killing of journalist Gerardo Ortega, the Philippine Department of Justice on Tuesday recommended that murder charges be filed against ex-governor Joel Reyes in the local courts, news reports said. In doing so, the department reversed an earlier decision not to pursue charges against Reyes.

Although the accused triggerman, Marlon Recamata, named Reyes in the murder, a June 2011 Department of Justice investigation found his statement unsubstantiated, news reports said. Ortega’s supporters submitted new evidence a few weeks later and petitioned for the department to re-investigate, reports said. After reviewing the evidence, the department issued a recommendation on Tuesday for murder charges to be filed against Reyes in the Regional Trial Court of Puerto Princesa City, according to news reports. 

The new evidence included phone records linking Reyes to his former security guard, Rodolfo Edrad Jr., who is facing charges as an accomplice of the gunman, according to news reports. Reyes had denied any association with Edrad, but later admitted to paying him a sum of money after records showed he sent Edrad 16 text messages on the day of the crime, news reports said. Reyes still denies ordering Ortega’s murder, according to news reports.

“We welcome this decision by the Philippine Department of Justice, but it is up to the authorities in Puerto Princesa City to ensure an effective prosecution,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Joel Reyes and his associates should be indicted and tried if Gerardo Ortega is to receive justice.”

Ortega was shot and killed in Puerto Princesa City, in Palawan province, on January 24, 2011. The journalist, an anti-mining activist, had criticized Reyes for alleged corruption related to the bidding process for mining contracts, according to news reports. Police detained Recamata at the scene, news reports said. In February 2011, the gunman pleaded guilty to carrying out the murder, according to news reports.

Murder trials in the Philippines are notoriously complex, which contributes to the country’s high rate of impunity in journalist killings, CPJ research shows. The country placed third on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free.