Dr. Gerardo Ortega (Dr. Ortega), also known as “Doc Gerry,” was a veterinarian and anchor of several radio shows in Palawan. On January 24, 2011, at around 10:30 am, he was shot dead inside the Baguio Wagwagan Ukay-ukay in San Pedro, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. After a brief chase with police officers, Marlon B. Recamata was arrested. On the same day, he made an extrajudicial confession admitting that he shot Dr. Ortega. He also implicated Rodolfo “Bumar” O. Edrad (Edrad), Dennis C. Aranas, and Armando “Salbakotah” R. Noel, Jr.
On February 6, 2011, Edrad executed a Sinumpaang Salaysay before the Counter-Terrorism Division of the National Bureau of Investigation where he alleged that it was former Palawan Governor Mario Joel T. Reyes (former Governor Reyes) who ordered the killing of Dr. Ortega.
On February 7, 2011, Secretary of Justice Leila De Lima issued Department Order No: 0918 creating a special panel of prosecutors (First Panel) to conduct preliminary investigation.
On February 14, 2011, Dr. Patria Gloria Inocencio-Ortega (Dr. Inocencio-Ortega), Dr. Ortega’s wife, filed a Supplemental Affidavit-Complaint implicating former Governor Reyes as the mastermind of her husband’s murder. Former Governor Reyes’ brother, Coron Mayor Mario T. Reyes, Jr., former Marinduque Governor Jose T. Carreon, former Provincial Administrator Atty. Romeo Seratubias, Marlon Recamata, Dennis Aranas, Valentin Lesias, Arturo D. Regalado; Armando Noel, Rodolfo O. Edrad, and several John and Jane Does were also implicated.
On June 8, 2011, the First Panel concluded its preliminary investigation and issued the Resolution dismissing the Affidavit-Complaint.
On June 28, 2011, Dr. Inocencio-Ortega filed a Motion to Re-Open Preliminary Investigation, which, among others, sought the admission of mobile phone communications between former Governor Reyes and Edrad. On July 7, 2011, while the Motion to Re-Open was still pending, Dr. Inocencio-Ortega filed a Motion for Partial Reconsideration Ad Cautelam of the Resolution dated June 8, 2011. Both Motions were denied by the First Panel in the Resolution13 dated September 2, 2011.
On September 7, 2011, the Secretary of Justice issued Department Order No. 710 creating a new panel of investigators (Second Panel) to conduct a reinvestigation of the case. The Second Panel was composed of Assistant State Prosecutor Stewart Allan M. Mariano, Assistant State Prosecutor Vimar M. Barcellano, and Assistant State Prosecutor Gerard E. Gaerlan.
Department Order No. 710 ordered the reinvestigation of the case “in the interest of service and due process” to address the offer of additional evidence denied by the First Panel in its Resolution dated September 2, 2011. The Department Order also revoked Department Order No. 091.
On March 12, 2012, the Second Panel issued the Resolution finding probable cause and recommending the filing of informations on all accused, including former Governor Reyes. Branch 52 of the Regional Trial Court of Palawan subsequently issued warrants of arrest on March 27, 2012. However, the warrants against former Governor Reyes and his brother were ineffective since the two allegedly left the country days before the warrants could be served.
Governor Reyes filed before the Court of Appeals a Supplemental Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with Prayer for Writ of Preliminary Injunction and/or Temporary Restraining Order impleading Branch 52 of the Regional Trial Court of Palawan. In his Supplemental Petition, former Governor Reyes argued that the Regional Trial Court could not enforce the Second Panel’s Resolution and proceed with the prosecution of his case since this Resolution was void.
On March 19, 2013, the Court of Appeals, in a Special Division of Five, rendered the Decision declaring Department Order No. 710 null and void and reinstating the First Panel’s Resolutions dated June 8, 2011 and September 2, 2011.
Aggrieved, the Secretary of Justice and the Second Panel filed the present Petition for Review on Certiorari assailing the Decision dated March 19, 2013 and Resolution dated September 27, 2013 of the Court of Appeals.
Whether the Secretary of Justice erred in filing the case against the respondent thru the 2nd Panel despite the dismissal of the 1st Panel of prosecutors for lack of sufficient evidence in the preliminary investigation?
No, In a preliminary investigation, the prosecutor does not determine the guilt or innocence of an accused. The prosecutor only determines “whether there is sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial.”
The prosecutor in a preliminary investigation does not determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. He does not exercise adjudication nor rule-making functions. Preliminary investigation is merely inquisitorial, and is often the only means of discovering the persons who may be reasonably charged with a crime and to enable the fiscal to prepare his complaint or information. It is not a trial of the case on the merits and has no purpose except that of determining whether a crime has been committed and whether there is probable cause to believe that the accused is guilty thereof. While the fiscal makes that determination, he cannot be said to be acting as a quasi-court, for it is the courts, ultimately, that pass judgment on the accused, not the fiscal.
The Secretary of Justice has the discretion, upon motion or motu proprio, to act on any matter that may cause a probable miscarriage of justice in the conduct of a preliminary investigation. This action may include, but is not limited to, the conduct of a reinvestigation.