MANILA, Philippines — A fifth suspect in the March 4 killing of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo, along with eight others, has surrendered and corroborated the statements of four other arrested suspects implicating Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. in the crime.
A former soldier who was discharged from service in 2016 due to his alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade, the suspect surrendered to the Armed Forces of the Philippines last Friday and was turned over to the National Bureau of Investigation on Monday, according to AFP chief of staff Gen. Andres Centino.
The suspects earlier arrested by authorities identified a certain “Cong Teves” as the mastermind behind the Degamo slays.
Degamo unseated Teves’ brother, Pryde Henry Teves, as provincial governor after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) last September annulled Pryde Henry’s proclamation as the winner in the May 9, 2022, elections. This came about after the Comelec credited the votes obtained by a nuisance candidate in favor of Degamo.
The Supreme Court affirmed the Comelec ruling last February.
In a press conference on Monday with other top officials of Task Force Degamo, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the latest suspect was a “direct participant” in the killings.
Asked if the suspect named Teves as the mastermind, Remulla hedged and said they were still verifying the statements.
“What I can tell you is that there are circumstances that lead you to the conclusion that he (Teves) was perhaps involved in the crime, but the specifics of that we cannot tell you as of now,” Remulla noted.
“(The suspect) has very critical information. He is one of the main players in what happened. His statements corroborate the previous statements given to us and he knows the other people involved so he knows the extent of the network,” added Remulla.
He said that based on the suspect’s claims, eight more people were involved in the killing aside from the four other suspects who are in the NBI’s custody.
Teves, even before he was linked to Degamo’s killing, had denied any involvement in the crime as he was expecting to be blamed for the slaying of his political rival. Remulla said he was hopeful that Teves would return, but admitted that the lawmaker had not given any indication of coming back.
“The problem is that there’s no discussion of his coming home. He’s been sending lawyers but he is not sending signals that he is coming back,” said Remulla, a former Cavite congressman.
Teves’ legal counsel explained that his client’s failure to return to the country, even if Speaker Martin Romualdez himself told him to do so, was not a deliberate disregard of any directive from Congress since it was just a “friendly advice.” Romualdez had asked Teves to return twice on March 10 and 14.
Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio wrote to the House ethics committee in response to the panel’s query seeking an explanation for the lawmaker’s request, which has been rejected by Romualdez, for a two-month leave.
“At the outset, Rep. Teves wishes to clarify that the call from the Honorable Speaker of the House for this representation to ‘come home’ may hardly be construed as a ‘direct order,’” Topacio said.
By the “tenor” of Romualdez’s statements, he said “it is pellucid that he merely made a friendly advice” to Teves to return to the country to face allegations linked to Degamo’s murder.
Topacio also noted that the House adopted a hybrid system in which virtual meetings are allowed and that one’s participation in virtual meetings is “considered as actual presence for most intents and purposes of the House rules.”
On Monday, however, House ethics and privileges committee chair Rep. Felimon Espares gave Teves an ultimatum of 24 hours to come home and be physically present in the committee hearing today.
Call for expulsion
Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo, the governor’s widow, has appealed to the House leadership to have Teves expelled.
“We are pushing other matters in Congress. I have signed a petition to expel him from Congress,” she said in an interview on dzBB on Sunday.
Among the reasons she cited for the dismissal were the killings in the province that she claimed were perpetrated by Teves, their political nemesis, as well as video clips of Teves dancing half-naked on social media.
The mayor also said that she believed that her husband’s four police security escorts had nothing to do with the murder, adding that she was also hopeful that authorities would approve her request that the assets of Teves and his family be frozen.
“He will use his wealth, power, and influence so that the charges filed against him and family members will not hold,” she earlier said.
Meanwhile, Teves’ aide, Hannah May Sumerano Oray, filed on Monday a complaint against agents of the police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for alleged “human rights violations.”
The complaint was in connection with the raids at Teves’ houses in Basay town wherein firearms, explosives and live ammunition were allegedly seized.
Oray’s lawyer, Toby Diokno, said police subjected Oray to psychological torture after she was arrested and detained.
Oray said that the agents threatened her that her life would be destroyed because she would be jailed for “60 years” if she did not comply with the police’s orders.
Her camp decided to pursue the case before the CHR because “she needed immediate recourse.”
Oray was released last week due to a lack of probable cause.