After 2 months, NBI files murder raps vs Teves for Degamo slay
MANILA, Philippines — Suspended Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. was finally named a respondent in the criminal cases filed over the death of his political rival Gov. Roel Degamo and nine other people, more than two months after the brazen killings.
After a series of delays, the National Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday formally filed a complaint against Teves for murder, frustrated murder, and attempted murder on several counts.
The lawmaker, who was abroad when the attack was carried out on March 4 at Degamo’s residential compound in Pamplona town, has refused to return to the country, citing threats on his life.
But Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said it would be in Teves’ own interest to come back and respond to the criminal complaints against him, lest his absence hasten his indictment before the court.
The charges are now pending before a panel of prosecutors at the Department of Justice (DOJ), which will first determine if there is probable cause to indict Teves. “[He will be issued a] subpoena, then [he needs to] file a counteraffidavit … He can’t file that in absentia. He has to personally appear to swear by the contents of this counteraffidavit,” Remulla told reporters.
“He has to come home or they will file the case in court and a warrant will be issued in absentia,” he said.
Until Wednesday, Teves had only been a “person of interest” in the murder case, though Remulla, in media interviews, had repeatedly accused him of orchestrating the killings, citing the testimony of some of the suspected gunmen now in government custody. A tenth victim died on May 7 due to gunshot wounds.
Teves’ counsel, Ferdinand Topacio, who earlier criticized the slow progress of the DOJ’s case against his client, said “it’s about time” that the complaints were filed.
“But if Secretary Remulla said he wanted [the case to be] ‘airtight,’ it’s not airtight anymore because I heard through various news outlets that there were recantations or backing out of some of their witnesses,” Topacio said.
Topacio was referring to Remulla’s earlier statement that some of the suspects in NBI custody had become “uncooperative” after private lawyers were hired to represent them.
On Tuesday, the justice secretary said he had received a tip that Teves was scheduled to return to the Philippines on Wednesday, but the information later proved false.
“The information that I am coming home is fake news. They should have asked me first to confirm,” Teves said in a message to reporters.
On Tuesday evening, the lawmaker, apparently poking fun at Remulla’s statement, wrote on his Facebook page: “Are you all ready?”
Teves did not say when he planned to come back.
The congressman earlier sought political asylum in the tiny Southeast Asian country of Timor-Leste but the request was denied. Remulla surmised that Teves could still be in Timor-Leste or might have already flown to Indonesia or South Korea.
On Wednesday, the Philippine National Police assured Teves of his safety should he return to the country.
“The PNP is ready to secure [Teves] once he sets foot in the country. Our Aviation Security Group also has their own preparations and has been coordinating with airport authorities. Our Aviation Security Units chiefs are also ready once he arrives [at any of the airports in the country],” PNP public information office chief Col. Redrico Maranan told reporters.
Teves was the only respondent named in the new complaints filed by the NBI, as the 11 other suspects had been charged earlier.
Last month, his alleged “co-mastermind,” Marvin Miranda, was indicted by state prosecutors for nine counts of murder, 13 counts of frustrated murder, and four counts of attempted murder.
Also indicted were Rogelio Antipolo Jr., Winrich Isturis, Joven Calibjo Javier, Eulogio Gonyon Jr. and John Louie Gonyon.
Teves is serving a 60-day suspension imposed by the House of Representatives for “disorderly behavior” as a result of his unauthorized absences. The penalty lapses on May 22.
Meanwhile, the House ethics committee had rejected the request of Degamo’s widow, Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo, to expel Teves, citing a technicality: Her request was not in the form of a sworn complaint as required by the panel.
The committee chair, Rep. Felimon Espares of Coop Natcco party list, said he informed Degamo of the panel’s decision in a reply on April 4.
Expulsion on table
“It is not a sworn complaint so it cannot be qualified here in the committee. There are a lot of requirements in our committee rules that should be complied with,” the lawmaker told reporters on Wednesday.
But the committee will meet after the last day of Teves’ suspension to decide what to do with the absentee congressman.
“We set a meeting on May 23. If our colleague shows up or not, we will discuss it and there might be some action,” Espares said.
Should he still be a no-show, the committee may again ask Teves to explain, he said.
“If we recommend possibly another suspension due to continuing violations, other members of the House can amend that and make it into expulsion,” he added.