Sanctions loom for Negros solon, but lawyer says ‘plot thickens’
The House of Representatives committee on ethics on Monday gave Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves Jr. 24 hours to physically attend the next hearing scheduled for Tuesday.
The panel chair, Rep. Felimon Espares, said Teves’ failure to do so would result in possible sanctions.
At the same time, Espares disclosed that the panel, which held the meeting in an executive session, did not allow Teves to join the hearing earlier through videoconferencing.
Teves asked House Majority Leader Mannix Dalipe that he be allowed to deliver a privileged speech on Zoom in Monday’s plenary session. Teves’ letter was received at 2:55 p.m. He was unable to deliver a speech until the session ended at 5:36 p.m.
The ethics committee, however, rejected Teves’ bid to attend the meeting online and instead urged him to return home within 24 hours.
“We extend our time to let our colleagues respond within 24 hours to come home, but if he cannot appear personally in our committee, the committee would really have (to render) its decision, the appropriate sanctions. So probably by tomorrow (Tuesday) at 4 or 5 p.m., we will have our committee meeting to deal with if our colleagues will not physically appear in our committee,” said Espares.
Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla, a congressman for Cavite before President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appointed him to his Cabinet, said it was up to the House whether Teves should be expelled.
Teves is in the United States and has refused to fly home, saying he fears for his life following the assassination of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo, a political rival.
His lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, earlier said Teves had been allowed to participate in Monday’s House ethics committee hearing via teleconference to explain how he was supposedly framed.
To disenfranchise Teves from Congress would only disenfranchise the constituents of Negros Oriental in District 3, the lawyer said.
He maintained Teves’ innocence.
“Despite several requests, Congressman Teves was not allowed to talk via teleconference to explain his side so that the public would know the truth behind the issues,” Topacio said.
He said that it seemed “the plot thickens” against his client, for before it was only the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) that are “circling on” Teves, now it seems that the House is also “going hard” against him.
Topacio appealed to government agencies looking into the recent murder of Degamo “not to be obsessed” with Teves by making him look guilty, for any accused or suspect “is considered innocent unless proven otherwise.”
“They must follow all the leads and look at all the angles,” Topacio said as he accused the agencies handling the case of “resorting to trial by publicity.”
“That only shows they have a weak case, so they must justify it on the bar of public opinion,” the lawyer said.
This developed as another suspect in the killing of Degamo has surrendered, Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. said on Monday.
The suspect is now under the custody of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and will be turned over to the National Bureau of Investigation.
Abalos did not identify the suspect who surrendered to the military over the weekend. But he said the suspect was a soldier and had vital information about the killing.
“We were told that the suspect has vital and critical information that we hope will pave way for the resolution of this case at the soonest possible time,” said Abalos during Monday’s press conference of Task Force Degamo.
He added the suspect strengthens the testimonies of other witnesses who earlier surrendered.
Abalos reiterated his call for the others involved in the crime to surrender.
“The mastermind seems to have no conscience. Fear for your lives, because they might kill you,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Abalos said the whole of the government is steadfast that justice will be served for Degamo and the families of the eight others who were also killed.
The DILG, he added, is willing to extend assistance and protection to the victims’ families and will evaluate thoroughly should they need security.
The Interior chief said they are also listing down the areas where there are private armed groups in anticipation of the barangay elections scheduled to be held on Oct. 30.
Department of Justice chief Remulla, who joined Abalos in the press conference, said the information given by the suspect will have to be validated.
“He knows other people involved and the information he told us corroborated the statements given by others who were earlier arrested,” Remulla said.
Remulla said the new suspect’s testimony provides vital information on the possible involvement of Rep. Teves in the killing.
Two of the four suspects, currently detained at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), have identified the lawmaker as involved in the killing.
At least 30 complaints have been filed in relation to the murder of Degamo at his home on March 4.
Among the respondents were four who were earlier arrested and 12 John Does.
Of the complaints, nine were for murder, 15 for frustrated murder, three for attempted murder, and three for violation of the laws on illegal possession of firearms, ammunition, and explosives.
Police said earlier at least 10 gunmen attacked Degamo.
The killers, clad in complete camouflage uniforms, bulletproof vests and carrying long firearms, were on board three getaway vehicles – a Mitsubishi Pajero (NQZ 735), Isuzu pickup (GRY 162), and Mitsubishi Montero (YAP 163).
The vehicles were later found abandoned in Barangay Kansumalig, Bayawan City, Negros Oriental.
Degamo’s killing happened after the recent ambush of Mayor Ohto Caumbo Montawal of Datu Montawal (Pagagawan), Maguindanao Del Sur, who was shot and wounded by two gunmen in Pasay City.
Two other local officials — Aparri, Cagayan Vice Mayor Rommel Alameda in Nueva Vizcaya and Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal Alonto Adiong Jr. — were also attacked last month.
Teves had an authority to travel to the United States until March 9.
However, he failed to return to the Philippines after the expiration of his approved trip and sought a two-month extension of his leave of absence.
The House has yet to resolve his request.
Teves’ camp earlier said that “safety concerns” were the reasons for the congressman’ continued stay abroad.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice said it will replace prosecutors in Negros Oriental to remove any perception of bias and doubt in the conduct of a preliminary investigation into the killing of Degamo, Remulla said.