Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Tuesday declared that Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. is already considered a fugitive, after the lawmaker refused to return to the country to face murder charges filed against him.
Remulla made the statement after Teves’ lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, said the lawmaker is not a fugitive since the government has yet to issue a warrant of arrest against him.
“When one is suspected of having committed a crime, he is already considered a fugitive; he just did not show up,” Remulla said in an interview with ABS-CBN’s Headstart.
“The actions would speak louder than words. It’s that he is not showing up, that he is evading us, or trying to evade the law,” Remulla added.
Remulla earlier said that Teves, who was supposedly in the US for medical treatment, is “being considered” one of the masterminds in the March 4 killing of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo and eight others.
Several criminal complaints have also been filed against Teves, including multiple murder complaints over killings in 2019, and the illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Asked why an arrest warrant has yet to be issued against Teves, Remulla cited due process.
“We want to push the process, but we’re talking about human rights and due process, that is how the law works, we have to respect the due process of law, [no matter] how slow it is,” Remulla said.
He said the congressman was entitled to a preliminary investigation.
Several lawmakers, the Philippine National Police, and Remulla had repeatedly urged Teves to return to the Philippines and face the allegations against him.
Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez pointed out that Teves’ authority to travel to the United States was only valid from Feb. 28 to March 9.
But Teves asserted that he would only return to the country once the safety of his life and his family had been secured.
Topacio on Tuesday accused Remulla of demonizing his client.
“The secretary of justice himself is now making… innuendos as to the guilt of my client. To me, that is highly improper,” Topacio told CNN.
“If the head of the department keeps saying that this person or that person, in his belief, is guilty, how do you now expect the prosecutors who are all under him to make a contrary decision after preliminary investigation?” Topacio said.
The lawyer explained that when a crime occurs, an investigation happens first before the masterminds are determined.
However, in the Degamo slay, the alleged orchestrators were first named before an investigation occurred.
“I’ve seen it all before. First, they demonize the person,” he said, adding that they expect Teves to be charged with Degamo’s murder.
Topacio said his client is ready to face the court.
“Anyone who has a modicum of perception will know that that is where this is leading,” he added.
Topacio said Remulla should have filed the case against Teves if he had the evidence.
“Stop the juridical striptease. They’re peeling off one partial clothing at a time.. File the case,” he said. “You’re prejudicing the minds of your prosecutors, you’re prejudicing the mind of your
Also on Tuesday, the Philippine National Police confirmed that they collected photos and map sketches of Degamo’s family residence from one of those arrested during the raid in the compound of former Negros Oriental governor Pryde Henry Teves.
The arrested person was identified as Nigel Electrona, a former cop and the alleged licensee of the security agency that guards the sugar mill owned by Teves.
Electrona was dismissed from service in the PNP in 2017 after his involvement with drugs.
Pryde Henry Teves said in an interview with radio dzBB that he is the president of the HDJ Corporation, which is the owner of the raided sugar mill compound, and he confirmed that Electrona has connections with them.
When asked about the confiscated items in his compound, Teves said that he is still not commenting on the search on his land until it is over.
Teves also called on his brother, Rep. Arnolfo Teves to return and clear his name.
For the fourth consecutive day, the agents of the PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group conducted another raid on Monday night and seized an assault rifle and various ammunition in the sugar mill compound linked to the former governor.
A Steyr AUG bullpup assault rifle and more than 1,600 rounds of assorted ammunition were collected during the search operation.
In the past few days, police have scooped up improvised explosive devices (IEDs), various firearms, and live ammunition.