Teves: Suspect, ‘terrorist,’ now expelled lawmaker
MANILA, Philippines — With 265 members in favor and three abstaining, the House of Representatives voted on Wednesday night to expel Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. on several grounds, including abandonment of public office and indecent behavior.
Except for the three-member Makabayan bloc who abstained, the lawmakers in attendance approved the 18-page report of the House committee of ethics and privileges recommending the removal of Teves, making him the first House member to be dropped from the roll without a prior court conviction for a criminal offense.
“The committee finds that the acts of Representative Teves constitute disorderly behavior and violate Sec. 141 (a) and (b), Rule XX of the Code of Conduct of the House, and such acts are so grave as to merit the most severe form of disciplinary action allowed by the Constitution in order to protect the institutional integrity of the House,” the report said.
In May 2002, then Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Romeo Jalosjos was dropped from the House roll months after the Supreme Court upheld his rape conviction. A similar action was taken against then Dinagat Island Rep. Ruben Ecleo Jr. in May 2012, following his conviction for corruption and parricide.
Before his expulsion, Teves served two consecutive 60-day suspensions this year for disorderly behavior—from March 22 to May 21 and from May 31 to July 30 — for his refusal to come home from abroad and face allegations linking him to the assassination of his political rival, Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo, on March 4.
The committee report cited three reasons for Teves’ expulsion: abandonment of public office and violation of oath of office, his designation as a terrorist, and indecent behavior after he posted online a video of himself dancing in his boxer shorts. In the video posted on June 5, following reports that the government would recommend his designation as a terrorist, Teves joked that his dance moves were part of the “new training” for those given the tag.
On Aug. 2, he and 12 others were given that designation by the Anti-Terrorism Council for their alleged role in several killings in Negros, including Degamo’s.
For the House committee, the video “caused dishonor” to the chamber as Teves’ actions were “not necessary to discharge the duties of his office nor [was] it made in furtherance of any legislative role.”
“It is one thing to be critical of the government, but another to be tactless and indecent. Indeed, the conduct of Representative Teves has crossed the limits of decency and good professional conduct,” it noted.
His “inappropriate conduct” could affect the image of Congress and cause the public to lose respect for lawmakers, it added.
The committee also said his designation as a terrorist “reflected discredit” on the House and posed “a significant threat to the integrity and dignity of the institution.”
“If a member is prima facie found to be involved in terrorist activities, it erodes public trust in the legislative body and the democratic process. It effectively strips off the moral ascendancy of Congress to enact measures that are precisely aimed at combating terrorism,” the panel stressed in the report.
Political asylum denied
Another ground cited was Teves’ “relentless pursuit” of political asylum and continued absence in the House, which were considered “tantamount to abandonment’’ of duty and a violation of his oath of office.
According to the committee, it was informed by the Department of Foreign Affairs that his application for political asylum in Timor-Leste had been denied twice, and that he still filed an appeal before its Court of First Instance.
“The act is a clear manifestation of his intention to abandon his office and cease fulfilling his duties and obligations as a duly-elected representative,” it said.
It added that Teves’ refusal to participate in the Department of Justice’s preliminary investigation into the charges against him regarding the series of killings in his province was likewise a violation of his oath of office.
Violation of House rules
“By taunting the investigation and deliberately evading the same, Representative Teves is neglecting his duty to be accountable to the public. His behavior erodes public confidence in the political system and damages the credibility of the office he holds,” the committee said.
Lastly, it pointed out that his continued absences without leave were in violation of House rules and constituted abandonment of office as well.
Teves left the country in late February and has refused to return to the country, citing threats to his life and the “unfair proceedings” in the House against him.
A lawmaker, however, defended the House decision, saying Teves was given “every opportunity” to air his side.
“I know there were moves to expel him much earlier but they deferred that a number of times. And basically Congressman [Teves] was given every opportunity to come home,” Rizal Rep. Jack Duavit told reporters after the voting.
“I believe they [committee members] were fair. You can see that in the body of the committee report, in the wording. I think it was fair,” he added. “There were concerns that, are we doing this too fast, are we doing it correctly? Because this is the first time it’s happened.”
According to Duavit, while the decision to expel Teves was “expected,” the main issue against him was his absences and refusal to report for work.
It was not Teves’ designation as a terrorist or his “indecent” dancing video that did him in, but his absences, he said.
Ferdinand Topacio, the lawmaker’s lawyer, branded the expulsion a “dark day for the rule of law and the dawning of a new age of the tyranny of the majority.”