Ortega kin fears witness death weakens murder case

The family of slain Palawan-based broadcaster and environmentalist Dr. Gerardo "Gerry" Ortega on Wednesday feared that the death of a suspect-turned-prosecution witness would weaken the murder case against other suspects in the crime, including former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother Mario Reyes. Dennis Aranas, who was tagged as the assassin's lookout during the Ortega killing last January 2011, was found dead inside his cell at the Lucena Provincial Jail in Quezon. "We liken this to what happens in the Maguindanao Massacre trial and how the death of witnesses can affect the case," said Ortega's daughter Michaella, referring to the three-year-old November 23, 2009 massacre that left 58 people dead. Since the Maguindanao trial began in January 2010, at least three witnesses have been killed, according to the prosecution. Among them was a policeman-suspect being groomed by the prosecution to become a state witness had likewise supposedly committed suicide by jumping off the roof of his detention building in Taguig City. "We are just worried because as witnesses die [for whatever cause], the case may weaken in the long run," she said. Michaella emphasized the importance of Aranas' testimony in the murder case. "Mr. Aranas later turned witness for the case, corroborating other testimonies and evidence leading the trail to ex-Governor Joel Reyes," she said. Michaella claimed that Atanas' widow said she did not believe her husband committed suicide. Michaella said she and her family are currently pooling funds for an autopsy since the Aranas family cannot shoulder the costs. Tragic and sickening Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, legal counsel for the Reyes brothers, said that death of Aranas was unfortunate. "But what is equally tragic, and at the same time sickening, in this unfortunate turn of events, is the haste by which the Ortega Family implies in their recent public statements, that former Governor Reyes may have something to do with Aranas’ death," Topacio said. "Again, this is part of their bloodlust against the Reyes Family," he added. The Reyes brothers were charged with murder for the killing of Ortega in January 2012. They have repeatedly denied involvement in the crime, and remain at large despite an arrest warrant and a hold departure order issued against them. Topacio said that contrary to the "blatant lie being peddled by the Ortega camp," Aranas never gave testimony directly or indirectly linking his clients, the Reyes brothers, to the crime. "We repeat that only one person, namely Junjun Bumar, points to former Governor Reyes as the mastermind. His testimony remains unsupported even by his own conspirators," Topacio said. Bumar had admitted organizing the assassination squad that killed Ortega, and pointed to Reyes as the alleged mastermind. Topacio explained that Aranas' statements would have been useless against the Reyes brothers. "Therefore, any references as to the loss of Dennis Aranas as 'weakening the case' against Governor Reyes are merely rhetoric, if not mentally dishonest," he said. Ortega's death was linked to his hard-hitting radio commentaries on illegal mining activities in the island province. Aside from being a broadcaster, Ortega was also a prominent civic leader and veterinarian who once headed Palawan's famous crocodile farm in Puerto Princesa City. — DVM, GMA News