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Philippine Fugitive Politicians Wanted for Murder Arrested in Phuket

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Seated from left to right: Mario Reyes, Joel Reyes, flanked by Thai police

Seated from left to right: Mario Reyes, Joel Reyes, flanked by Thai police

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PHUKET – Thitirat Nongharnpitak, Deputy Chief of Thailand’s Central Investigation Bureau has reported that a former Philippine provincial governor and his brother, who are among the country’s most-wanted crime suspects for the 2011 murder of a radio anchor and prominent environmentalist, have been arrested.

Former Gov. Joel Reyes of western Palawan island province and his brother Mario Reyes, an ex-municipal mayor, were arrested Sunday by Thai police on the southern island of Phuket, said Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. She said Thai immigration authorities were processing the brothers’ deportation papers.

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The Philippine government has offered a 2 million peso ($43,000) reward each for information leading to the arrest of the brothers, who fled the Philippines after being implicated in the murder of Gerardo Ortega.

Thitirat Nongharnpitak, deputy chief of Thailand’s Central Investigation Bureau, said one of the brothers was arrested for illegal immigration. The other came to Thailand legally but was arrested on the charge of overstaying his visa, he said, adding that both would be deported.

Ortega’s family said Ortega may have been silenced for accusing officials including the Reyes brothers of alleged corruption involving funds from a natural gas project. He had also been a staunch critic of mining on Palawan, which is famous for its pristine beaches and virgin forests.

Ortega was brazenly shot on Jan. 24, 2011, at a used clothing store in downtown Puerto Princesa city, Palawan’s provincial capital, by a self-confessed hit man who implicated the Reyes brothers and a former provincial administrator.

The brothers have denied the accusation, saying their political opponents were behind the charges.

“The arrest of the long-wanted Reyes brothers provides an opportunity for pursuing the ends of justice,” presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said. “We acknowledge the efforts of Interpol and Thai authorities in making this possible.”

Mika Ortega, the slain environmentalist’s daughter, also welcomed the arrests. But she told DZMM radio that there is a long fight ahead to make sure that the masterminds of the crime are convicted.

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