The Commission on Elections (Comelec) Second Division has disqualified Mario Joel Reyes as a candidate for governor of Palawan in the May 9 elections on the ground of his being a fugitive from the law.
“Wherefore, premises considered, the instant Petition for Disqualification is hereby granted. Respondent Mario Joel T. Reyes is hereby declared disqualified to run for the position of Governor in the Province of Palawan in connection with the 09 May 2022 National and Local Elections,” the 15-page Comelec ruling stated.
The decision was signed by Presiding Commissioner Marlon Casquejo and members, Commissioners Rey Bulay and Nelson Celis.
In a statement, the poll body said the concerned parties including petitioners Nasir Radjudin Miranda and Mohammad Vinarao Asgali have been given copies of the resolution promulgated on Jan. 5.
While Reyes lost in the gubernatorial race, the poll body’s Second Division “deemed it proper not to simply treat the case as moot and academic”, citing that the Supreme Court emphasized that a disqualification case still presents a justiciable issue which the Comelec should resolve.
In seeking Reyes’ disqualification, the petitioners cited his prior conviction by the Sandiganbayan and his being a fugitive from justice.
In its ruling, the Comelec affirmed that Reyes was an escaped prisoner in connection with the murder of broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega.
The Comelec adverted to a judicial notice of Reyes’ “intent to evade the prosecution of the criminal charge”.
“Thus, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that Respondent evaded his arrest when he was indicted for the crime of Murder in December 2019 for allegedly killing the environmentalist and broadcaster Gerry Ortega. Nor can we ignore the fact that the Court of Appeals reinstated Respondent’s murder case after previously dismissing the same and directed the Regional Trial Court of Palawan to issue a warrant of arrest against him,” the decision stated.
“Despite the fact that Respondent was able to secure a Temporary Restraining Order from the Supreme Court, the same does not erase the fact that Respondent fled to another country and evaded his arrest after indictment,” it added.
Reyes was arrested in Thailand in September 2015 and deported to Manila.
The Court of Appeals dismissed and subsequently reinstated the murder case against Reyes and directed the Regional Trial Court of Palawan to issue a warrant of arrest against him.
“Reyes’ act of fleeing to another country and evading his arrest after indictment constitute an ‘intent to evade’ which cannot be cured by the Temporary Restraining Order which he later on secured from the Supreme Court,” it said.
The Comelec noted that Reyes may not be disqualified on the basis of his prior conviction by the Sandiganbayan under Section 3(e) of RA 3019.
It added that due to the pendency of the Motion for Reconsideration and Urgent Reiterative Omnibus Motion filed by Reyes, the judgment against him in another graft case has not yet attained finality and thus, the accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification to hold public office will not set in.