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After 26 long years, Mario is back home

02 November 2019

Mario delos Reyes gets his travel documents from Consul Paul Saret.


By Daisy CL Mandap

Probably the longest serving Filipino inmate in a Hong Kong jail was released and deported to the Philippines on Oct.22 , 26 years after he was locked up for a murder conspiracy he still insists he was not part of.

Mario delos Reyes, 62, has now been reunited with his family in Nueva Ecija.

He was moved from maximum security Stanley Prison to Castle Peak Immigration Centre in Tuen Mun on Oct 5 in preparation for his deportation. But it took another 17 days before he could fly out and truly regain his freedom.

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Consul Paul Saret, who issued Delos Reyes’ one-way travel document posthaste on Oct. 15, was among those at the Hong Kong airport a week later, helping the former prisoner check in for his flight.

The head of the Consulate’s assistance to nationals section also handed gifts and personal items given to delos Reyes, who was allowed to only accept them at that time.

The kind gesture touched Delos Reyes, who said in an article he was to write later that it afforded him dignity when he needed it most.

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More kindness greeted him on his arrival in Manila, first from the flight attendant who looked after him until he got to the immigration counters, and second, from the senior immigration officer whose stern voice turned into one of concern when he showed him a write-up in The SUN about his case.

He reports that the supervisor even ordered a junior staff to accompany him right up to the exit area where his wife and daughter were anxiously waiting to give him his first warm hugs in nearly three decades.

But the sudden change in his surroundings and lifestyle has understandably left Delos Reyes, in his own words, “confused.”

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During the drive from Manila to Nueva Ecija with his family, he said he did not recognize any landmarks along the way. He also confesses to not recognizing most of his well-wishers as they, like him, have aged since they last saw each other.

And while he marvels at all the gadgets that he’s seeing for only the first time, he has yet to feel comfortable using them, preferring still to compose a message or a letter through the old-fashioned way, by long hand.

But as he says in his article, he knows he has to move on. Lucky there’s still time for him to catch up, and look ahead.

Delos Reyes, who used to work as a 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.

Delos Reyes and Pagatpatan were convicted by a jury after trial on Feb 24, 1994, on a charge of  conspiracy to commit murder. Both were sentenced to a life in prison.

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

Court records showed Palenia had sought the gang’s help in taking revenge on Vera Cruz for allegedly calling her son Reynaldo a “drug addict.”

Delos Reyes says he didn’t even know the victim.

While in jail, Delos Reyes busied himself with reading up on current issues, writing and taking various courses offered in jail, the most recent of which was a Master’s in Business English.

He also waged a campaign to get the Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners Agreement between Hong Kong and the Philippines enforced, to no avail.

After spending 20 years in jail, Delos Reyes put all his energies into getting a sentence hearing so he could get a fixed prison term.

He finally managed to achieve this in June this year, when he was given a fixed sentence of 39 years. With full discounts for good behavior and a spotless prison record, this was further reduced to 26 years.
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