MANILA, Philippines — The lawyer of Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. called out Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Tuesday for branding his client a “fugitive,” saying this was “premature” and only served to “demonize” the lawmaker.
Ferdinand Topacio said his client had no reason to seek refuge outside the country, as he had not been indicted for the March 4 assassination of his political rival, Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo, or for any other criminal offense.
“Why is he a fugitive from justice? What is he fleeing from? There’s nothing yet,” Topacio told the Inquirer by phone.
“That legal word should not be brandished about loosely or recklessly… What we are avoiding here is a lynch mob mentality,” he said.
In an ANC interview on Tuesday, Remulla said Teves was now considered a fugitive even in the absence of a warrant for his arrest.
“When one is suspected of having committed a crime, he is already suspected to be… considered to be a fugitive because he does not show up,” Remulla said.
‘Trying to evade the law’
“Actions would speak louder than words here… he is not showing up. He is evading us, or trying to evade the law,” he added.
On Monday, Remulla said Teves might have links to a “criminal organization” allegedly behind the series of killings in the province, including Degamo’s assassination, and that he was considered one of the alleged masterminds.
Remulla said the Department of Justice (DOJ) might file charges against the arrested suspects by Friday.
But when asked if Teves would be named a respondent, he said it would “depend on the decision of the panel of prosecutors based on the evidence we have.”
Teves is facing separate criminal complaints filed by the police before the DOJ in connection with the 2019 killings of at least three people in Negros Oriental, including former Board Member Miguel Dungog, a Degamo ally.
The Philippine National Police has also filed complaints against Teves and his sons, Kurt Matthew and Axel, with the DOJ in connection with the cache of weapons and explosives discovered in some of the lawmaker’s residential properties in the province.
Asked why no warrant has been issued yet against Teves, Remulla explained that it was part of due process.
“Of course, we want to push the process. But we’re talking about human rights and due process of law; that is how the law works. We have to respect the due process of law. No matter how slow it is, we have to respect it,” he said.
“Unless in hot pursuit, we cannot arrest a person; we have to give him the light of day in court, or in the preliminary investigation,” he added.
‘Trial by publicity’
According to Topacio, Remulla’s attacks against his client would only adversely affect the complaints that the police filed against Teves with the DOJ.
“It evinces a fundamental weakness in their evidence that they had to resort to trial by publicity. They are now pandering to the crowd,” he said.
Remulla’s statements, he said, were “improper and they are merely designed to prejudice the minds of the people against Teves.”
“They are improper because until and unless there are charges in court, the DOJ should act impartially because when there is a preliminary investigation, it acts in its capacity as a quasijudicial body to determine probable cause. It does not act as a prosecutor yet,” Topacio said.
He noted that Teves left the country on Feb. 28, a week before a group of armed men gunned down Degamo and eight other people inside the governor’s residential compound in Pamplona town.
Asked if it would affect the credibility of the DOJ panel of prosecutors that will handle the case, Topacio said: “It affects their impartiality and neutrality because how can you now make a finding contrary to the very public pronouncements of [Remulla]?”
Pryde Henry’s appeal
Also on Tuesday, Teves’ younger brother, Pryde Henry, appealed to his brother to help the family clear their name amid all the allegations being hurled at them.
“If you are listening to me, call us, your brothers, even our parents. Believe us, it’s better to come home. It’s not good to live your life as a fugitive,” he said, addressing his brother in an interview on GMA Regional TV.
Pryde Henry assured his brother that he and his family would be safe, saying President Marcos himself had guaranteed his safety.
“I hope that he will abide [by our request]. Maybe [his return] will stop all these [accusations] and shed light on everything,” he added.
Pryde Henry, whose properties in Negros Oriental had also been raided resulting in the seizure of cash and weapons, said he was ready to submit himself to authorities for questioning.
“I am fully cooperating with the authorities. I don’t intend to fight the government, and I always heed the authorities. I will never run away,” he said.
Degamo unseated Pryde Henry as Negros Oriental governor after the Commission on Elections voided the latter’s proclamation as the winner of the May 2022 gubernatorial race, and gave Degamo the votes obtained by a nuisance candidate.
The Supreme Court affirmed the Comelec ruling in February.