Teves still no-show, defies House deadline
MANILA, Philippines — Defying an ultimatum set by his peers, Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. did not show up during Tuesday’s hearing by the House ethics and privileges committee which is looking into his unauthorized absence from the chamber.
The nonappearance of the congressman, who was implicated in the March 4 killing of his political rival, Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo, and eight others, prompted the committee chaired by Coop-Natcco party-list Rep. Felimon Espares to wrap up its inquiry into his conduct.
But Espares did not immediately disclose the committee’s findings and recommendations in compliance with House rules.
“The committee has reached a conclusion by unanimous voting, and we will transmit and submit our report and our recommendation at once to the plenary for appropriate action,” he told a press briefing after the 18-member committee’s closed-door meeting.
“The continuing failure of Representative Teves to heed the order to appear before the panel leaves us [with] no choice but to wrap up the investigation in his case without his valid explanation,” Espares said.
This means the panel’s report on Teves’ conduct may only be known to the public by Wednesday, the last day of session before Congress goes on its break.
The House committee met at 4:44 p.m. on Tuesday, minutes after the lapse of the 24-hour deadline it gave Teves to appear in person.
Suspended or expelled
The House may censure or reprimand an erring member with the concurrence of the majority of its members. It may also suspend an erring member for a period not exceeding 60 days or expel him or her outright with the concurrence of two-thirds of all the members.
Sought for comment, Speaker Martin Romualdez praised the committee for “acting expeditiously on the case, in consonance with the committee’s mandate and in compliance with the Rules of the House to punish its members for disorderly behavior.”
“We recognize and respect [Teves’] rights as a House member. That’s why we gave him opportunities to come home and clarify the issues he is facing now,” the Speaker said on Tuesday night.
Teves’ fate “now lies [in] the hands of his fellow House members, voting as an institution,” Romualdez said.
The congressman flew to the United States on Feb. 28 for a stem cell treatment but didn’t return even after his travel authority expired on March 9, prompting his colleagues led by Romualdez to prevail on him to come home and face the charges and allegations against him.
Nine of the suspected gunmen, mostly former soldiers, in Degamo’s assassination are now in the government’s custody, with a number of them confessing to the crime and pointing to a “Cong Teves” as the alleged mastermind, investigators said.
In a March 6 video statement on his Facebook page, Teves denied any involvement in the killings.
His lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said the congressman feared for his life but would return to the Philippines in due time.
Earlier on Tuesday, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said Teves reached out to him via text message.
“He wants to talk to me, but I haven’t given an answer because we’re still busy doing what we’re doing. I don’t want it to distract me on what I have to do first,” he told reporters.
But Remulla said he wanted other people to be present should such a conversation materialize “because I don’t want words twisted.”
‘We almost have all’
Four more suspects in the Degamo killing have surrendered, according to Remulla, bringing to nine the number of those in custody.
The suspects, whom he described as “major players” in the assassination, were also former soldiers, Remulla said.
“These four more suspects surrendered through the military because they are military personnel… I don’t know yet their exact status but most of them are not anymore active. They will be turned over to us tomorrow (Wednesday),” he told reporters.
He added that the authorities were looking for at least three more people, although almost everybody on the “attack team” was now in detention.
“We almost have all the people as part of the team that attacked Governor Degamo and almost all of them are in custody except for one or two who we are eyeing to be really involved in the plan,” he said.
Remulla said the four had yet to give initial statements.
“They still have to undergo debriefing but it’s for purposes of military intelligence but we’ll be getting it. They turned themselves in. They arranged for their own surrender,” the justice secretary said.
In Negros Oriental, stringent security measures remain in place as government troopers hunt down the remaining suspects.
Lt. Col. Kym Lopez, Negros Oriental police spokesperson, said checkpoints were set up in strategic areas in the province.
“We are doing our best to maintain peace and order in Negros Oriental. Expect us to do all the tasks which were expected of us policemen,” he told the Inquirer on the phone.
Last week, about 300 additional soldiers, in full battle gear, were deployed by the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division to augment the peace and security operations of the police in the province.
The additional personnel came from the 11th, 15th, 47th, 62nd, 79th, and 94th Infantry Battalions of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
—WITH A REPORT FROM KAYE BRIER
House ethics reaches decision on Teves’ absence, to divulge it in plenary
Remulla receives text message from Teves: ‘He wants to talk to me’
5th suspect also links Teves to Degamo slay
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