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Prisoner-activist Mario delos Reyes to be freed after 26 years

30 September 2019

Mario Delos Reyes is flanked by Consul General Bernie Catalla and Fr. Rodolfo Jacobe after receiving his certificate for finishing a Master's degree in Business English. ATN staff Hermogenes Cayabyab Jr. is leftmost.


By Daisy CL Mandap

For more than a quarter of a century and a third of his life, Mario delos Reyes languished in Stanley Prison for a murder he has always claimed he did not commit. He fought for years to get a fixed sentence so he would know for sure when he could leave the maximum-security jail, but now that this has happened, he confesses to being suddenly confused.

Delos Reyes, who is now 62, is set for release on Oct. 5 after being in jail for more than 26 years. He shared the good news with The SUN in a letter he sent recently.

“I was given a fixed sentence of 39 years last June subject to the approval of the Chief Executive and it was signed and confirmed at the end of July. I will only serve a third of the nominal sentence due to good behavior and a spotless prison record so I will just serve 26 years and my release date will be this coming October 6 but (as that) falls on a Sunday, then I will released on a Saturday, (a) one day further reduction,” he says in his letter.


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While happy that he will soon be a free man again, Delos Reyes is also understandably confused. After all, a lot of things have happened since he got locked away, most notably the advent of the internet and all the new technology that came with it. It will not be easy, either, getting used to not having a fixed daily routine, and having his movements monitored throughout the day.

After 26 long years, he will also have to move back to the Philippines and pick up the pieces of his life together with his wife, Gigi and their three children who are now all adults.

“Since I got my sentence for almost two months now, I’ve felt very confused and cannot think rationally as if my mind is a blank. Hahaha! Maybe I am just eager to go out,” he said.

A young Mario visiting HK before coming here to work as driver/tour guide in 1989


Delos Reyes’ prodigious writing, keen interest on current issues, and relentless campaign for the enforcement of the Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners Agreement between Hong Kong and the Philippines have made him probably the best known Filipino inmate in Hong Kong.

But being sentenced to an indeterminate term weighed heavily on him, especially after he reached his 20th year behind bars, when he knew he could already ask for a fixed term. Twice he tried, but was rejected each time. The last time this happened, the Long Term Prison Sentence Review Board merely said he had served an “insufficient” period of time.

This was despite his spotless record in prison, his completion of numerous academic courses, the last of which was a Master’s in Business English, and the help and encouragement he’s given to fellow prisoners, especially Filipinas who were caught acting as drug mules for syndicates.



Delos Reyes, who was then working as a driver and tourist guide in Hong Kong, was arrested in April 1993, two months after he was put on the wanted list for the death of Eduardo Vera Cruz in a gang attack in Sai Kung.

Charged with him were his fellow members in the “Utol” gang, Orlando Pagatpatan, and his friend referred to in the case records only as Marlon, who managed to flee to the Philippines to avoid arrest.

Two others originally charged with them, Naty Palenia and her 21-year-old son Reynaldo, were eventually discharged and became prosecution witnesses.

During trial, it emerged that it was Marlon who delivered the fatal blows on Cruz, but the knife that was used to stab him belonged to Delos Reyes. To this day, Delos Reyes claims he did not know Marlon had his knife, and that he did not take part in assaulting the victim before he was stabbed.

Making it more tragic for Delos Reyes was the fact that did not even know the victim, but was only asked by Palenia to act as their driver in confronting Cruz, who had allegedly accused her son Reynaldo of being a drug addict.

Both Delos Reyes and Pagatpatan were found guilty on a unanimous verdict by the jury on Feb. 24, 1994 of a charge of conspiracy to murder. Judge Stuart Moore immediately sentenced the two to life imprisonment after condemning them for their “cowardly attack” on Cruz.

But a year later, Judge Moore wrote a letter to the governor in support of future sentence reviews for the two, saying the outcome of the case “might have easily gone either way” and that a “merciful jury” may have decided on a verdict of manslaughter.

Despite having such a compelling endorsement from the trial judge, it would take a quarter of a century before Delos Reyes could see the light at the end of the tunnel again.

Delos Reyes, a native of Laoag, Ilocos Norte, is the eldest of four children. Through the dint of hard work he managed to graduate from Wesleyan University, before deciding to become a soldier. He came to Hong Kong on an employment visa in 1989.

In his letter, Delos Reyes expressed confusion as to whether he will be allowed to remain in Hong Kong after his release, saying he had a HKID and a working visa when he was arrested.

Police rehabilitation officers have also reportedly told him they would monitor his activities for 24 months after his release, should he choose to remain in Hong Kong. But NGO workers are reportedly advising him to just return to the Philippines to enjoy the company of his family as he is already past 60 years old and the standard of living in Hong Kong is very high.

But Consul Paul Saret, head of the Consulate’s assistance to nationals section, says Delos Reyes would most definitely be put on a plane back to the Philippines as soon as he is released from Stanley Prison.
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