Lawyer warns Roque may face graft charges over Ortega case

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Former Palawan Governor Gerry Ortega, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, and slain journalist Gerry Ortega

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 13) — Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque could be charged with graft if he continues to criticize the Court of Appeals' decision to set former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes free, a lawyer said Saturday.

"It's unethical and may subject him to a graft complaint for using undue and improper pressure and influence upon other public officials," Ferdinand Topacio said in a press briefing.

He is one of the lawyers of Reyes, accused of masterminding the murder of journalist-environmentalist Gerry Ortega, slain in broad daylight in 2011.

Reyes walked free on January 5 after the appellate court ruled there is no basis to hold him for trial.

Read more: Ex-Palawan governor in Gerry Ortega slay walks free

Roque has slammed the ruling and said the government will exert all legal options to reverse it.

Roque and Solicitor General Jose Calida said the Supreme Court had already ruled on the jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Court in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, to find probable cause and pursue the trial.

They questioned the Court of Appeals' right to counter such a decision.

Roque, who also served as legal counsel in the Ortega family's case against Reyes, said he was given permission to comment on the case in his personal capacity as a former prosecutor.

Topacio said it is the prosecution that must be blamed for presenting weak evidence.

He called Roque's statements "mental dishonesty to the highest level."

He said Roque should choose between staying as presidential spokesperson or going back to practicing law instead.

"Please Secretary Roque, save the mental dishonesty when you go back to private practice....Don't use the President for this. Please," Topacio said.

Roque said Topacio is entitled to his own opinion but he has the President's consent to comment on the case.

"I never hid the fact I was previously counsel for the Ortega family. And I even asked for the expressed consent of the President before I commented on the case," Roque said in a press briefing on Saturday.

Ortega is just one of many journalist slays in the Philippines, which remains one of the deadliest countries for media persons. He had reported on the alleged widespread corruption in the provincial government and misuse of funds in Palawan, which later became part of the Malampaya fund scam.

CNN Philippines' Eimor Santos contributed to this report.