MANILA, Philippines — Prosecutors have cleared Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. of one of eight charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives but indicted co-respondent Roland Pablio in the case.
At a press conference yesterday, Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Secretary and spokesman Mico Clavano said the case was dismissed because no proof was established to link Teves to a conspiracy with Pablio to possess the firearms.
But the DOJ official clarified that there are seven other counts for the same offense pending before the DOJ, including the ones in which Teves is accused with his sons Kurt Matthew and Axel.
“I just wanted to emphasize that the DOJ has been fair. They would claim that there is political persecution, but the DOJ has always been and will always be evidence-based,” Clavano said.
“And I just want to clarify that he has pending cases, which also includes his sons, and he is still considered one of the suspects and a mastermind behind the slay of (Negros Oriental) Governor (Roel) Degamo,” he added.
The DOJ is also looking at putting Teves and other suspects under the international lookout bulletin order, especially as the congressman has not returned to the country to face the charges.
Teves earlier said he was in the US to undergo stem cell treatment at the time Degamo was murdered early this month.
“All those that are in relation to the Degamo slay, we have taken concrete steps to talk about putting them in the international lookout bulletin,” Clavano said.
Calling the March 4 attack on Degamo at his residence in Pamplona town “brazen,” Clavano said there are several other persons at large – aside from the four gunmen arrested – who might be tapped as witnesses.
“There are actually more than 10 involved in our investigation. According to their statements, there is a ‘layering’ in their scheme – the gunmen who are directly involved in the assassination, the driver, the look-out, even a so-called ‘handler’ or middleman,” Clavano said.
“So all these serve as a layer of security to protect the mastermind. Our investigation and case build-up so far is solid. We just have to close all the little gaps left before it is ripe for filing,” he added.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has called on Teves to surrender and be “brave enough” to face the charges.
He said Teves’ citing his fear for his safety is a “poor excuse” for refusing to come back to the country.
The secretary has assured the congressman that he would be safely escorted back home.
Teves is also being investigated by the DOJ for his role in a spate of 2019 killings in Negros Oriental, including the ambush slay of provincial board member Miguel Dungog in Dumaguete city.
The congressman has denied all allegations, saying the evidence against him was planted.
The DOJ said the governor’s assassination was preceded by a pattern of violence in the province, with at least 10 cases of political killings. The department will meet Negros Oriental mayors this week for a dialogue about the violence.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) said the dismissal of one of the cases against Teves was just a minor setback.
PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo said the congressman is not yet off the hook as the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) has filed other cases against him.
“While we may consider it as a minor setback, the other cases will not be affected,” she told a press conference.
“The CIDG is strongly convinced they have strong evidence to prove the involvement of the accused,” she pointed out.
The CIDG has yet to receive a copy of the DOJ’s resolution dismissing one of the complaints against Teves.
Once it gets a copy of the decision, Fajardo said the CIDG will study if there is a need to file a motion for reconsideration.
On the murder of Degamo and eight other people, Fajardo said they are expecting a major development in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa reminded Teves that his refusal to return to the country might be seen as an admission of guilt by the public.
Dela Rosa said Teves may want to clear his name in court and during a public hearing of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, which he chairs.
“Aside from his defense in court, it is also good that through this committee, he can clarify his side on his alleged involvement,” the senator said.
Teves’ request for an extension of his leave was turned down by the House leadership.
Dela Rosa said he has decided to postpone the public hearing on the spate of political killings to allow authorities to dig deeper into the incidents and file appropriate charges.
He said the hearing may resume possibly on Wednesday – the last day of session before the Lenten break – if the DOJ has filed charges against the mastermind of the Degamo assassination.
He also said the committee would try to find ways to get the congressman to attend the hearing, even online or via Zoom.
“To ordinary people, flight means guilt. When you run away and don’t want to be seen, they will think you’re guilty. It’s better for him to face the case,” he added. – Emmanuel Tupas, Cecille Suerte Felipe2023-03-18T16:41:15Z dg43tfdfdgfd