New opportunity for justice for killed Filipino journalist Gerry Ortega

Justice for journalist Gerry Ortega

Last Sunday, 16 July 2023, the Supreme Court of the Philippines released the re-arrest warrant of former governor of Palawan Joel T. Reyes for his role in the murder of journalist Gerry Ortega. This is the second time, after the Regional Trial Court also issued an arrest warrant for him on on 14 July 2021. However, up until this day, the Philippine national police failed to arrest him.

The order follows prolonged efforts by the family, their lawyers, and civil society - including Free Press Unlimited - to achieve justice for the murder of Gerry Ortega that took place in 2011. Free Press Unlimited therefore applauds this important step towards justice. These developments come after Gerry Ortega’s cold case was re-investigated in May 2022 as part of A Safer World For The Truth, an initiative set up by Free Press Unlimited, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters without Border (RSF).

Arrest warrant Joel T. Reyes
Re-arrest warrant for Joel T. Reyes.

Radio journalist Gerry Ortega reported on corruption within the administration of former Palawan Governor Joel T. Reyes (2002 – 2011). In his radio programme, he exposed corruption issues that hounded Governor Reyes’ provincial government and commented specifically on the provincial government’s alleged misappropriation of natural gas royalties.

On the morning of 24 January 2011, Gerry Ortega was shot and killed in Puerto Princesa City. In spite of crucial evidence, Reyes has been able to avoid

Journalist Gerry Ortega
Journalist Gerry Ortega.

prosecution. After the failed first arrest warrant in 2021, the A Safer World For The Truth investigation found that Reyes still exerts influence over local public officials in Palawan and is therefore able to subvert the rule of law. In spite of the arrest warrant, and FPU-investigators speaking to several people that spotted Joel T. Reyes on the island of Palawan, he was never arrested by the police.

Also, while walking free in Palawan, he was able to intimidate the sole state witness in the case. On 25 August 2021, the witness - Rodolfo Edrad – even survived an attack when unidentified gunmen fired machine gun rounds at his house. Mr. Edrad told FPU-investigators that a few weeks before the brutal attack, a police official claiming he had been sent by Joel T. Reyes, ordered him to retract his statement, and if he didn’t, he would be killed. Meanwhile, Joel T. Reyes filed his candidacy for the position of governor in the local elections in May 2022. Before the elections, the family of Ortega faced another setback, when the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against them, which allowed Reyes to freely campaign for the elections - which he eventually lost.

Time for justice

The Supreme Court has now ordered the Regional Trial Court to issue a new arrest warrant for Reyes and continue his prosecution. Free Press Unlimited calls on The Department of Justice of the Republic of the Philippines to make sure the Philippine National Police prioritizes the arrest of Reyes, and guarantees justice for the family of Gerry Ortega. Until that moment, Free Press Unlimited will monitor the proceedings closely and push for justice.

Share this page: