Gerry Ortega

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

On January 24, 2011, Gerardo "Gerry" Ortega, a Philippine journalist and host of a talk show on the 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 news reports. An Associated Press report said that Ortega, 47, had recently received death threats from an unknown source. 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 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 brothers, saying the department was over-reaching, according to news reports. While the department appealed, the brothers went into hiding.

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 hanged himself, but an investigation by the public attorney’s office found fingernail marks and other injuries that indicated he had likely been attacked.

On September 20, 2015, police in Phuket, Thailand, arrested both Reyes brothers, who were traveling on fake passports, for overstaying their visas, according to news reports.

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 of involvement in Ortega’s killing and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

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, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals, claiming that the court “disregarded jurisprudential parameters” in its earlier decision to release Joel Reyes, news reports said.

Joel Reyes was re-arrested on January 29, 2018, on graft charges related to a mining company that was allegedly allowed to over-extract ore in Palawan in 2006. He was convicted of graft and sentenced to six to eight years in prison in August 2018, but was released in 2021, according to reports.

In April 2022, the Office of the Solicitor General urged the Supreme Court to lift a March 23, 2022, temporary restraining order issued by the High Court, which prevented the Regional Trial Court of Puerto Princesa City from enforcing an arrest warrant against Joel Reyes for Ortega’s murder, according to reports

The solicitor general also asked the Supreme Court to dismiss a petition for review filed by Joel Reyes challenging an amended Court of Appeals ruling that found probable cause to charge him in the Ortega killing, the reports said.

Joel Reyes ran to retake Palawan’s governorship in May 2022, but was defeated by rival candidate Dennis Socrates, according to news reports. Mario Reyes ran for municipal mayor of Palawan’s Coron City during those elections and won, news reports said.

In July 2023, the Philippine Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant against Reyes, in connection with Ortega’s murder, and ordered the trial to continue.

However, in December 2023, the court granted a request from Reyes to move the case from a Palawan court to Quezon City, near the capital Manila, prompting fears from Ortega’s family that the trial could be further delayed.

Reyes remained at large as of mid-March 2024. A coalition of three international press freedom groups – CPJ, Free Press Unlimited, and Reporters Without Borders – which have investigated Ortega’s murder since 2020 met with Philippine authorities in Manila in early March to provide new information that points to the location of Reyes. 

The Philippine national police told the three international organizations – who together form the “A Safer World for the Truth” initiative – during the March 2024 meeting that it would implement the arrest warrant against Reyes, while the Department of Justice pledged to deal with the matter with urgency.

CPJ was unable to find contact information for legal representatives of the Reyes brothers.