Congressman Arnolfo Teves Jr., who has refused to return to the Philippines to face murder charges, may be designated a terrorist, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said Monday.
“In this case, the activities that led to the killing on March 4, all are covered under the anti-terror law: the recruitment, the financing, the purchase of firearms, [and] the distribution of firearms,” Remulla said, referring to the assassination of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo.
Designating him a terrorist would add pressure on Teves, who remains in hiding.
“If the person will not surrender, then we will have to make the world smaller for him,” Remulla said.
Teves, who is still abroad and presumed to be in Cambodia or South Korea after his trip to the United States, has denied all the allegations against him.
Teves, in a press conference via Zoom, said he does not expect a fair trial in relation to the Degamo case.
At the same time, the lawmaker said he is not inclined to return to Manila “because I don’t feel safe.”
Remulla previously said Teves was considered one of the masterminds in the assassination of Degamo and the killing of eight others. Teves said he and his clan had nothing to do with the crime.
The House suspended Teves for 60 days following his refusal to return to Congress.
While the Degamo assassination had “the hallmarks of terrorism,” Remulla said they would not file an anti-terror case immediately as doing so could prejudice “other convictions that can be secured easily,” such as murder and multiple murders.
Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. agreed with Remulla’s views.
“This law covers everything that we should do, revoke his passport and squeeze him. This law is appropriate for what happened. I agree with this 100 percent,” he said in Filipino.
Meanwhile, Degamo’s family said Teves will face more criminal cases involving previous killings in the province.
“I think in a few days from now we will be filing new murder cases involving previous killings also,” lawyer Levito Baligod, who represents the Degamo family, said in an interview at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“I am just securing the places where our witnesses in the killing could stay,” Baligod said, referring to the families of the witnesses involved in the killings.
“The witnesses have already issued sworn affidavits,” said Baligod, who added the witnesses pointed to Teves as the one who reportedly ordered the killings.
On March 7, Baligod filed with the DOJ murder complaints against Teves for the deaths of three persons in Negros Oriental in 2019.
He identified the alleged victims as former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agent Miguel Dungog who ran for the position of provincial board member of Negros Oriental in 2019, Lester Pialago Bato, and Pacito Retes Libron.
The DOJ has yet to start the preliminary investigation on the murder complaints.
“I’m asking the Department of Justice also give attention to these three previous killings because actually there are a lot more,” Baligod said.
Earlier, he had said there are at least 64 incidents of killings that need to be looked into in the province.
Aside from the murder complaints filed by Baligod, Teves has been tagged as the mastermind behind the March 4 assassination of Degamo.
Teves said he would return home if those promising his safety – including President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – will explain how Degamo died despite being surrounded by security personnel.
“Who will watch over me? Army and police? That’s my question too, and my question as well for him (Marcos) – who watched over Degamo? Military and police personnel as well, right? But he’s buried now.”
Teves also laughed off Remulla’s remarks that the government would proscribe him as a terrorist under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
“It’s becoming like a circus. How can you be a terrorist when you haven’t been charged?” Teves said.
Teves’ lawyer Ferdinand Topacio echoed Teves’ view that there will never be a fair trial for his client.
He also said his client should be given the chance to speak during the Senate investigation into the Degamo killing.
Topacio also denounced Remulla’s remarks that Teves should be tagged as terrorist. He said that the common crimes punishable under the anti-terror law should be “in relation to sowing fear and panic among people,” which he said did not apply to Teves, who has yet to be charged or face a warrant.
“There are no findings yet of probable cause. Why would you use the Anti-Terrorism Law to break the impasse? But if that is what will make Secretary Remulla happy, to wield his newfound power and to go power-tripping, we cannot stop that,” Topacio said in Filipino.
The panel of prosecutors at the Department of Justice has given the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) until Wednesday, April 19, to submit additional evidence on the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives filed against Teves and his two sons, Axel and Kurt Matthew.
Topacio, Teves’ legal counsel, said the DOJ prosecutors conducted their first preliminary investigation on the charges.
“Based on the submission that will be made by the PNP-CIDG we will determine if we will have enough time to submit a counter-affidavit at the next hearing,” Topacio said.
“We couldn’t answer the allegation through the filing of counter-affidavits without the evidence being completed,” he said.
“Of course, it is our right to look at the evidence before we answer,” he added.
Also present during the hearing was lawyer Andres Manuel, the legal counsel of Axel and Kurt Matthew.
“What is currently being conducted is a preliminary investigation. This means the panel will weigh all the evidence and documents that have been submitted and based on those they will determine if charges should be filed or not against our clients,” Manuel said.
Four suspects in the killing of Degamo and eight others on Monday attended the first preliminary investigation.
Baligod said the witnesses affirmed their affidavits during the preliminary probe.
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