MANILA – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) Second Division has disqualified Mario Joel Reyes as a candidate for governor of Palawan in the May 9 elections.

In a statement Thursday, the Comelec said the parties including petitioners Nasir Radjudin Miranda and Mohammad Vinarao Asgali have been given copies of the resolution promulgated on Jan. 5.

“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,” read a part of the 15-page decision signed by Presiding Commissioner Marlon Casquejo and members, Commissioners Rey Bulay and Nelson Celis.

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.

The petitioners sought Reyes' disqualification on two grounds -- his prior conviction by the Sandiganbayan under Section 3(e) of Republic Act (RA 3019) or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and his being a fugitive from justice under Section 40(e) of RA 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991.

In its ruling, the Comelec found that Reyes is an escaped prisoner in connection with the charge against him for the murder of broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega.

Pursuant to Section 2 of Rule 129 of A.M. No. 19-08-15-SC, it took 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 said.

“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.

He was arrested in Thailand sometime in September 2015 and deported back 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. (PNA)