DOJ moves to thwart Teves’ asylum bid in Timor-Leste
Suspended Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. is seeking asylum in Timor-Leste to evade Philippine authorities trying to locate him as a person of interest in the March 4 murder of his political rival, Gov. Roel Degamo, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said on Tuesday.
Teves arrived in the tiny Southeast Asian country in late April and applied for “special sanctuary status” there, the Department of Justice (DOJ) chief told reporters.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had been alerted by the Philippine Embassy in Timor-Leste that Teves landed in the capital city of Dili seeking a “protection visa with the intent of asylum.” Upon being informed of Teves’ movements on April 28, the DOJ sent a letter, through the embassy, informing the Timorese government of the congressman’s status as a person of interest in a murder investigation.
“We have sent a letter to Timor-Leste that he is a person of interest in [several] murder cases and he’s being considered for designation as a terrorist by the country giving a fair warning that the person asking for asylum may not necessarily be a good candidate,” Remulla said.
The justice secretary said asylum seekers were usually fleeing their home countries for “political purposes,” but he believed Teves did not have a good case to ask another government for refuge.
No political reason
“We don’t see a political reason for him to seek asylum in Timor-Leste. It’s really for not wanting to face the consequences of certain actions by which he is being held to account in the courts of law,” Remulla said.
The DOJ is also pressing to have Teves declared a terrorist, supposedly for gathering a group of former soldiers and amassing high-powered weapons in the killings of Degamo and other political rivals.
In a letter to Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo dated May 8, Remulla assured the DFA chief that the Anti-Terrorism Council was in the process of designating Teves as a terrorist, as its technical working group met for the first time four days earlier.
A protection visa provides a person or a group asylum in a foreign country out of fear of persecution in their home country due to race, religion, or political motives.
Teves and his lawyers have said he fears for his life and would only return when his safety is guaranteed.
Should he be proscribed as a terrorist, his name will be included in the United Nations Security Council Terrorist list, which will compel member states to surrender Teves to the Philippines under the duty of rendition.
Timor Leste is a member of the United Nations. The country, located in the eastern half of the island of Timor, which it shares with neighbor Indonesia, has also been granted observer status and membership “in principle” to the 10-economy Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which the Philippines is a founding member.
Still no indictment
Remulla earlier named Teves as the “mastermind” behind the brazen killings of Degamo and eight other people in the governor’s residential compound in Pamplona City in Negros Oriental on March 4, based on testimonies of some of the arrested gunmen.
A tenth victim died on Sunday upon succumbing to gunshot wounds.
Teves, who is serving a 60-day suspension imposed by the House of Representatives for unexcused absences, has denied the accusations, saying he was being framed.
Two months since the murders, however, the DOJ has yet to indict Teves for Degamo’s murder.
Instead, the Philippine National Police has filed charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against the congressman and his two sons after a series of raids on his family’s properties.
On March 7, days after the Degamo murder, the police filed multiple murder charges against Teves and five other people in connection with a series of killings in Negros Oriental, including of a former provincial board member and Degamo ally, in 2019.
‘About to file cases’
Last week, Teves’ lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said the lack of progress in the Degamo murder case “leads us to believe… that the government [is] scrambling for evidence.”
“That is why they even went to the extent of branding him as a terrorist and having him declared so by the Anti-Terrorism Council… They are weaponizing the antiterror law. We are very concerned because if they can do that to a congressman then they can do that to anyone who crosses the government,” Topacio said.
On Tuesday, Remulla said the department might file the cases within the week.
“We’re about to file the cases but there are a few more details we need to iron out. But any time the case will be filed. I’m asking them to hurry it up because it’s been more than two months since the murders,” he said.
Eleven individuals, including another alleged mastermind, Marvin Miranda, who was identified as a long-time aide of Teves, have been charged with the murders of Degamo and nine other victims.