Remulla To Teves: Flight Indicates Guilt
Instead of coming home at the end of his official leave from the House of Representatives last week, Teves sought a two-month extension of his stay in the US, saying he fears for his safety and security if he returns to the Philippines.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Friday, March 17, urged Negros Oriental 3rd District Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. to come home and face the charges against him, saying his refusal to do so could be taken as “an indication of guilt” in governor Roel Degamo’s murder.
“We have a legal adage that has a heavy weight: flight is an indication of guilt,” Remulla said when interviewed at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila.
Stressing how it does not reflect well on a suspect in a case to flee during an investigation, Remulla said: “We will construe his inability to go home or refusal to go home as flight – meaning to say, he does not want to face the charges.”
Teves was on medical leave in the United States when Degamo was gunned down at his residential compound in Pamplona, Negros Oriental last March 4. Eight other people were killed in the attack that also wounded 16 others.
While in the US, Teves posted a video message on his Facebook page, denying involvement in the bloodbath, emphasizing no one in his family – not even his brother Pryde Henry who ran for governor last year – stood to gain anything from Degamo’s death.
But instead of coming home at the end of his official leave from the House of Representatives last week, Teves sought a two-month extension of his stay in the US, saying he fears for his safety and security if he returns to the Philippines.
His request was denied by Speaker Martin Romualdez, who urged him to return with the guarantee that he would be given the necessary security detail to keep him safe upon his arrival.
For his part, Remulla said: “These are poor excuses not to face the charges.”
“The usual avenues of security are there for us to give to him. And I don’t think we’d fail in that respect, and we don’t intend to fail. It’s important to us that he remains safe and that he faces the process,” said Remulla, promising to afford his former colleague in the House safety and security.
Raps filed next week
Col. Jean Fajardo, spokesperson for the Philippine National Police (PNP), said they were informed by the National Bureau of Investigation that charges in connection with the murders of Degamo and eight others would be filed next week.
“Probably next week they would be filing cases against those remaining at large,” Fajardo, speaking partly in Filipino, said.
Four suspects in the Degamo case were arrested hours after the attack on his residence in Pamplona last March 4, while a fifth suspect was killed in an alleged shootout with lawmen.
Fajardo said 12 others who remain at large would be included in the charges to be filed next week and that among them are the mastermind and intermediaries in the plot to kill the governor.
Last week, two of the arrested suspects in the Degamo assassination named a “Congressman Teves” as their mastermind, but no charges have yet been filed.
With Degamo laid to rest last Thursday, March 16, Remulla said authorities can now fully proceed with their investigation.
“In our custom, we cannot pursue the people involved because it’s a time for grieving and the body is still at the wake,” Remulla said in Filipino.
“But now, that is done. We have now ordered people to go to the Department of Justice in the coming weeks so we can talk to them about the events in Negros Oriental these past years,” he said.
Teves: I’ve already been judged
In a statement also Friday, Teves said: “I’ve already been judged publicly, despite the absence of legal charges against me.”
He also called on Remulla to be open-minded about the accusations being hurled against him and afford him and his family a fair trial in other charges filed against them.
On Romualdez’s refusal to grant him a two-month extension on his travel permission abroad, Teves said he was not asking for the extension in order to avoid the charges filed against him.
“I’m not away because of guilt, but I’m away for safety,” said the congressman, claiming that he has received intelligence reports that certain people want to kill him or put him behind bars to serve their own interests.
Teves extradition eyed
Back at the House, ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro, a member of House committee on ethics and privileges, said the government has the option to have Teves extradited from the US if he ignores Romualdez’s order to return to the country.
“There are other remedies, for example, country-to-country remedies or extradition. The appropriate agency can avail of that so that Rep. Teves can come back to our country,” Castro told CNN Philippines.
Teves and his co-respondents will be facing state prosecutors on March 22 for the preliminary investigation on criminal complaints related to the seizure of illegal firearms and explosives from his properties in the province.
“We expect that the respondents will submit their counter-affidavits and evidence to controvert the complaint filed against them,” Fajardo said about the DOJ proceedings.
The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) – which carried out the warranted searches of Teves’ properties – also filed cases against the congressman’s sons, Kurt Matthew and Axel, and associates Roland Pablia, Jojo Maturan, Joseph Kyle Maturan and Hercaleo Oray.
Two other suspects arrested by the CIDG during the raids – Oray’s wife Hannah Mae and Jose Gimarangan – were ordered released by government prosecutors.
In his statement, Teves described himself as a “victim of persecution and harassment.”
“My people are unlawfully arrested and unjustly charged,” Teves said in a statement, adding that he has already been persecuted by certain authorities through the planting of evidence in his house and other properties.
Apparently, he was alluding to last weekend’s arrest of his close associates following the seizure of guns, grenades and ammunition from his properties by the CIDG.
Police said the raids were backed by search warrants and that the discovery of the firearms led to the subsequent arrests and filing of illegal possession of firearms charges against Teves, his sons and their associates.
Earlier, the congressman, his secretary and four others were charged with the murders of three people in Negros Oriental in 2019.
Remulla said the investigation into these murders, including the attack on Degamo, would delve on the political violence in the province.
He said there are more than 10 cases of political violence that point to a “pattern of impunity” in Negros Oriental and that culminated in the governor’s assassination. – With additional reports from Gilbert Bayoran, Emmanuel Tupas and Sheila Crisostomo