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Justice department creates new panel to reinvestigate murder of Palawan-based broadcaster

(CMFR/IFEX) - On 7 September 2011, the secretary of the Philippine Department of Justice (DOJ) ordered the formation of a new panel to reinvestigate the murder of Palawan-based radio broadcaster Gerardo "Gerry" Ortega.

DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima created the three-person panel composed of Assistant State Prosecutors Stewart Allan A. Mariano, Vimar M. Barcellano and Gerard Gaerlan "for the purpose of conducting a reinvestigation in the case of 'NBI - Dr. Patria Gloria A. Inocencio Ortega vs. Romeo Seratubias in XVI-INV-11B-00062'".

In June 2011, a panel previously created by the DOJ, consisting of Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Edwin Dayog and Assistant State Prosecutors Bryant Jacinto Cacha and John Benedict Medina, dismissed the case against the alleged masterminds behind the murder, former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes, former Marinduque Governor Jose Carreon, incumbent Coron Mayor Mario Reyes and three others.

De Lima said the reopening of the investigation aims to "give both parties all reasonable opportunities to present their evidence during the preliminary investigation."

De Lima added that the new panel will "address the complainants' offer of additional evidence, which was denied by the former panel in its Resolution of 2 September 2011 on the grounds that an earlier resolution has already been promulgated prior to the filing of said motion, and such other issues which may be raised before the present panel."

The 2 September resolution by the previous panel dismissed the partial motion for reconsideration filed by Ortega's widow, Patria, which questioned its 8 June dismissal of the murder charges against the alleged masterminds and other suspects.

Patria Ortega and the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation filed murder charges against former Governor Reyes, Mayor Reyes, former Governor Carreon, lawyer Romeo Seratubias, Arturo Regalado, Percival Lecias, Armando Noel, Dennis Aranas and Arwin Arandia. However, the previous panel dropped the charges against the two Reyeses, Carreon, Seratubias, Regalado and Lecias in its 8 June order for "insufficiency of evidence".

Ortega was shot dead on 24 January at a thrift store in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. He was a broadcaster for Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) dwAR. He was the second journalist killed in the line of duty under the new administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

One hundred and twenty one journalists and media workers have been killed in the line of duty in the Philippines since 1986. Only 10 cases have resulted in convictions. No mastermind behind any of the crimes has been convicted.

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