JUSTICE Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Monday said circumstantial evidence gathered by authorities pointed to the complicity of Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves Jr. in the killing of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo and eight others last March 4.
Remulla issued the statement following the surrender of a discharged soldier last Friday to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who admitted direct participation in the crime.
The DOJ chief described the soldier as “one of the main players” in the Degamo killing.
He said the soldier provided “very critical” information that corroborates the statements previously provided by four suspects now in custody of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
When asked if the soldier corroborated the claim of the arrested suspects that Teves masterminded the killing, Remulla said, “Naming [Teves] as mastermind or participation or role in the crime? Well what I can tell you is that there are circumstances that lead you to the conclusion that he was perhaps involved in the crime but the specifics of that we cannot tell you as of now.”
Remulla expressed optimism that the information provided by the soldier will lead to the identification of at least eight other persons of interest in the crime, including the mastermind.
“Very possible [that it will lead to the mastermind] but we have to look at the information first. We have to interview him again. There was already an initial interview but we have to validate the information to make sure that everything is reliable and ties up with the information that we have,” Remulla said.
He added that investigators are currently doing case build-up to ensure that they will have an airtight case against the suspects and the masterminds.
“There will be no cover-up in this investigation. We are working on a case build-up against the suspects and the masterminds,” Remulla said.
Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos, on the other hand, said the surrenderer has given information that strengthens the testimonies of the other witnesses who have earlier surrendered.
“We were told that the suspect has vital and critical information that we hope will pave the way for the resolution of this case the soonest possible time,” Abalos said.
Teves has denied any involvement in the killing of Degamo but said he would not be surprised if he and his brother Pryde Henry Teves would be implicated to the crime.
The Teveses are known political rivals of Degamo.
Pryde Teves lost his petition filed before the Supreme Court seeking to reverse the September 1, 2022 ruling of the Commission on Elections, which declared a certain Grego Ruel Degamo as a nuisance candidate in the gubernatorial race in Negros Oriental in the May 2022 elections.
As a result, the poll body ordered that the 49,953 votes obtained by Grego be credited in favor of Degamo, bringing the latter’s total votes to 331,727.
Subsequently, the Comelec annulled Teves’ proclamation as provincial governor since his total votes of 301,000 was lower than Degamo’s votes.
But while circumstantial evidence is slowly coming out against Teves, Remulla admitted that his return to the country remains uncertain.
Teves left the country last February 28 to undergo stem cell treatment in the US and was suppose to return last March 9 based on the travel clearance issued by the House of Representatives.
The lawmaker has expressed apprehension over his safety and sought assurance from the government that he gets proper protection.
Teves, through his lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, assured that he would face all accusations against him and expressed confidence that he would eventually be cleared.
Remulla said Teves has not made any concrete steps to show his desire to return to the country.
“We don’t know if he is coming back. If he really intends to return, he will go back but the problem is the ongoing talks are not leading towards that direction,” Remulla said.
“He should come home to face the music. He is a public servant and that’s what he should do, he should face his responsibilities and answer all the questions being thrown at him,” Remulla said.
On the petition filed by Degamo’s widow Pamplona Mayor Jance Degamo before the House of Representatives seeking Teves’ expulsion, Remulla said such action is possible under the rules of the House.
However, Remulla stressed that the task force would leave it up to the House leadership on what possible action to take against Teves if he fails to return.
“That’s very possible under the Rules of the House. It would depend on the voting of its members. It’s really up to the House to come up its own decision in that case,” the DOJ chief explained.
Meanwhile, Remulla said public prosecutors assigned in Negros Oriental would be replaced in order to ensure a fair investigation and prosecution of cases in the province.
“We’re about to do that, we are working on that, now that Gov. Degamo has been laid to rest. So those things will move faster again, for the things we need to do,” Remulla said.
In an earlier radio interview, Remulla said relatives of Degamo had also suggested the replacement of state prosecutors assigned in the province.
Abalos said at least 30 complaints have been filed in relation to the Degamo murder.
Among the respondents were the four suspects who were earlier arrested by authorities 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.
The House Committee on Ethics and Privileges on Monday gave Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. 24 hours to physically attend the next hearing scheduled on Tuesday.
House Committee on Ethics and Privileges chairman Rep. Felimon Espares said Teves’ failure to appear in the next hearing would result in the committee deciding on sanctions that could be imposed against him.
“We cannot totally disclose what will be our next action but then as per approved by the committee, we’ll just inform you [media] that we extend our time to let our colleague to respond, within 24 hours to come back in the country,” he said.
“If he will not appear personally in our committee, the committee will really have its decision, the appropriate sanctions so probably by tomorrow [Tuesday] 4 or 5 p.m. we will have our meeting,” Espares added.
Also, Espares added that the panel prohibited Teves to join the hearing via videoconferencing as claimed by the lawmaker’s legal counsel Atty. Ferdinand Topacio.
“We give him another chance of 24 hours to really personally appear in our committee. Otherwise, the action of the comittee will be based on his non appearance,” said Espares.
“But then once he will appear for our meeting, might be the decision of the committee has nothing to do with regards to disciplinary action given that he appeared before the deadline,” he added.
With Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz