The Department of Justice will consider it as “flight” if Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves Jr. refuses to return to the Philippines, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said Friday.
“We have a strong legal adage for that matter: Flight is an indication of guilt. We will consider this a case of flight if he refuses to return to the country,” Remulla said in an interview with radio DZBB.
Remulla said this when asked what the DOJ would do if Teves will not return to the country while the government investigates the killing of Negros Oriental
Governor Roel Degamo, who was laid to rest on Thursday.
Teves was cleared to leave the Philippines for a personal trip to the United States from February 28 to March 9. Remulla previously said Teves is currently “somewhere in Asia.”
Teves’ legal counsel, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, earlier said his client has yet to return to the country due to concerns about his security.
The House Committee on Ethics and Privileges is set to hold another hearing on Monday to discuss the fate of Teves as House member.
The ethics committee has given Teves until Monday, March 20, to respond to its letter explaining his failure to return to the Philippines after his travel clearance expired.
COOP NATCCO party-list Rep. Felimon Espares, who chairs the committee, confirmed to GMA News that Teves’ office has already received the committee’s letter. The media was not furnished a copy as it is confidential.
Espares said the committee can vote on its next step on Monday if Teves does not respond to the letter, or if the panel is not satisfied with his response.
The party-list lawmaker said he is hoping that his committee can rule on the case immediately and forward it for plenary action before Congress goes on recess from March 25 to May 7.
In an interview on Unang Balita on Friday, Topacio stressed there is no direct evidence linking Teves to the killing of Degamo, his political rival, and urged authorities to look at all angles and not at just one person.
“There are many angles to a story, not only one, so don’t be fixated by one person only and let us follow all leads,” Topacio said.
Despite assurances from Remulla and the Philippine National Police that he will be secured in the country, Teves has asked the House leadership to grant him a two-month leave of absence, citing a “very grave threat” to his life and his family.
Topacio also said he himself will urge Teves to return to the country once charges are formally filed.
“It’s up to him but as his lawyer, I would advise him to come back.
This is the job of a lawyer, to advise his client to return,” he said.
“Of course, the course of action is entirely left to the discretion of the client. We are only here to advise,” Topacio stressed.
Remulla also said the DOJ is also looking into other evidence, even though statements taken so far in the investigation have “inevitably” led to Teves.
“Well, statements inevitably lead to him, but we will look at the other evidence,” he said.
“Because this is not just an accusatory process without evidence.
We’ll look at other evidence. We’ll look at the facts so that our fairness will not be questioned,” Remulla added.
On March 4, Degamo and seven others were killed while several others were injured in an attack while the governor was distributing aid to his constituents at his residence in Pamplona, Negros Oriental. The death toll later increased to nine.
Arrested suspects in the killing later named a certain “Cong Teves” as the person who ordered the killing. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
Congressman Teves’ brother, former Bayawan City Mayor Pryde Henry Teves, also served as a representative before running against Degamo in the 2022 elections.
Arnie Teves, for his part, earlier said he and his brother we not involved in the attack against Degamo.
“This is hearsay. No one said that they talked to Congressman Teves and that they were told to kill Governor Degamo,” Topacio said in an interview on GMA News’ Unang Balita.
“There is no direct evidence. In an ambush interview, the suspect said he talked to a certain Marvin, the supposed middleman for the guns for hire, and this Marvin said that a Congressman Teves ordered the hit,” the lawyer added.
Joric Labrador, one of the suspects arrested for the killing of Degamo, has identified a certain “Marvin” as the one who recruited them to conduct the assassination.
Labrador said they were told by Marvin that the order came from “Cong Teves.”
Asked if Teves knew a person named Marvin, Topacio said no, but added that it was not unlikely for the lawmaker not to know someone named Marvin, as it is a common name.
Topacio said Speaker Martin Romualdez, whom he met Wednesday, is aware of Teves’ current location. He said he will let Romualdez talk about the matter.
“That was one of the topics when I met with Speaker Romualdez the other day. They were aware of Teves’ whereabouts,” Topacio said. “But my gentleman’s agreement with Speaker Romualdez is that all that we discussed about Congressman Teves during the meeting is confidential.”
On Thursday, Romualdez urged Teves to reconsider his decision not to return to the Philippines in the meantime, amid the complaints filed against him in connection with supposed illegal firearms.
Murder and frustrated murder charges have been filed against four suspects identified as Labrador, Joven Calibjo Javier, Benjie Rodriguez, Osmundo Rojas Rivero, and 12 John Does before the Tanjay City Regional Trial Court.
Charges of illegal possession of firearms, ammunition, and explosives were also filed against three individuals before the Bayawan City Regional Trial Court.
Rep. Teves has also been named respondent in a separate complaint regarding several killings in Negros Oriental perpetrated in 2019.