Ortega, host of a talk show on local radio station DWAR, was shot in the back of the head as he was shopping in a Puerto Princesa City clothing store shortly after his morning broadcast, according to local and international news reports. Ortega, 47, had recently received death threats from an unknown source, according to The Associated Press. The journalist had openly criticized local officials accused of corruption and had opposed provincial mining projects, news reports said.
In a departure from most journalist murder investigations in the Philippines, police moved quickly in the case, arresting Marlon Recamata, the alleged gunman, and several suspected accomplices. Recamata pleaded guilty in February 2011 and was sentenced to life in prison in May 2013. Recamata told the court he was paid the equivalent of US$250 for the slaying, according to news reports and the victim’s family.
An accomplice, Rodolfo Edrad, identified ex-Palawan provincial governor, Joel Reyes, and his brother, Mario Reyes, former mayor of the resort town of Coron in northern Palawan, as having ordered the murder in retaliation for Ortega’s reporting on local mining operations. A Department of Justice panel had dismissed murder charges against the Reyes brothers in 2011, but a second panel reversed that decision in March 2013, based on new evidence. The following month, an appellate court blocked efforts by the Department of Justice to arrest the Reyeses, saying the department was over-reaching, according to news reports. While the department appealed, the brothers went into hiding.
The case has been marred in other respects. In February 2013, an accomplice who became a prosecution witness was found dead in his prison cell in Lucena City, Quezon. Prison authorities said Dennis Aranas had hanged himself, but an investigation by the public attorney’s office found fingernail marks and other injuries that indicated he had likely been attacked.
Police in Phuket, Thailand arrested both Reyes brothers, both of whom were traveling on fake passports, for overstaying their visas. They were deported to the Philippines, where they were held in detention, according to news reports. In January 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that there was probable cause for their arrest, and returned jurisdiction for the case to Palawan’s Regional Trial Court.
In March 2016, Arturo "Nonoy" Regalado, a former aide to the governor, was found guilty by the court for his role in Ortega’s assassination and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
In a controversial decision, the regional court granted bail to Mario Reyes in May 2016, but later in the year rejected a similar petition for Joel Reyes. Both politicians ran for elected office from prison but lost their respective bids for the vice-mayoralty and mayoralty of Coron on May 9, 2016, according to news reports.
On January 5, 2018, the Court of Appeals granted Joel Reyes’ petition to nullify the arrest order against him, ruling in a 24-page decision that his detention lacked “probable cause,” according to news reports. It ruled that the Puerto Princesa City Regional Trial Court that issued the order had no jurisdiction to try to decide the criminal case against him, and prohibited it from proceeding with the trial, the reports said.
On January 23, 2018, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals, claiming in its 53-page motion of reconsideration that the court “disregarded jurisprudential parameters” in its earlier decision to release Reyes, news reports said. Reyes was arrested on January 29 on separate graft charges related to a mining company that was allegedly allowed to over-extract ore in Palawan in 2006.
As of mid-September 2018, the Court of Appeals had not ruled on the motion of reconsideration, Patty Ortega, the journalist’s widow, told CPJ via email.