President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Wednesday assured the safety of Negros Oriental 3rd District Rep. Arnolfo “Arnie” A. Teves Jr. upon his return to the Philippines to face the ongoing probe into the killing of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel R. Degamo.
In an ambush interview with reporters following the 126th Philippine Army founding anniversary in Taguig City, the President said the government is willing to allow Teves to use the Philippine Air Force base for his arrival.
“He can land in the base, which will be surrounded by soldiers and no one will be allowed to go near him. So…that will guarantee his security,” Marcos said in Filipino.
However, he said, the government currently has no information on any threat on the life of the lawmaker.
The President made the pronouncement after Teves’ lawyers said their client decided to postpone his return due to supposed “grave threats” to his life and family.
Teves was allowed to travel to the United States by the leadership of the House of Representatives for medical reasons, but his travel authority expired last March 9.
The lawmaker claimed there are orders from Malacañang to link him to e-sabong (electronic cockfighting), which Marcos denied.
“This is about the killing of Governor Degamo. Pure and simple,” Marcos said.
Six armed men who barged into the governor’s compound last March 4 killed Degamo, along with eight others.
A special investigation task group is probing Teves for his possible complicity in the crime.
Marcos urged the lawmaker to return home soon so he could avail of more options to defend himself from the allegation.
“The only advice I can give to Cong. Arnie is that while this continues to drag on, his situation becomes more difficult. So the earlier he can go home, he will have more options [for his defense],” the President said.
“But if [his return] is already too late, the government will have no choice but to move without any discussions with him,” Marcos added.
5 more suspects yield
The government is hoping to finally identify the mastermind in the March 4 killing of Degamo in the next couple of days following the surrender of five more suspects in the murder.
“We expect that evidence will turn up against the mastermind in the next few days,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said during a news briefing at Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday where the surrender of the five suspects was announced.
The briefing was attended by the Interior and Local Government Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr., Department of National Defense Officer in Charge Carlito Galvez Jr. and police and military officials led by PNP chief Rodolfo Azurin Jr. and military chief General Andres Centino.
Degamo’s wife, Janice, and all the other mayors of Negros Oriental were also present during the briefing.
While he did not identify the five suspects, Abalos said the suspects, who have felt the heat of the ongoing operations by the government, surrendered to the military, which turned them over to the National Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday.
Their surrender has brought to a total of 10 suspects already in government custody, all of whom are former military personnel, except one who has also been a former trainee-soldier.
Centino said it was “very fortunate” that all the suspects who have been arrested so far are former soldiers, having been dishonorably discharged from the military years ago.
“We will find out,” he said when asked if the former soldiers are already members of crime groups.
According to Remulla, of the 10 suspects that are in custody, nine have direct participations in the killing of Degamo.
Eight others were killed in the attack while 18 were also wounded, Abalos said.
Remulla added: “We expect much, much more results in the next few days as we are still finalizing their statements.”
The justice chief said somebody helped and assisted the five suspects after the attack.
The suspects, according to him, “withdrew from the site” and stayed in a safe house before they were “extracted.”
Case 80 to 90% solved
Degamo’s wife, Janice, and nine other mayors from the province met with officials of the inter-agency task force task to resolve the killing of Gov. Degamo and eight others last March 4.
In separate interview, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said Degamo’s widow expressed her appreciation for the unrelenting effort of the task force to bring to justice all those responsible in the attack including the masterminds.
Remulla said the mayors also provided documents and other information about the current political landscape in Negros Oriental that might help the task force in maintaining peace and order in the province.
The meeting with the mayors, which lasted for almost three hours, was also attended by Secretary Abalos and some officials of the Philippine National Police.
“They’re very appreciative that we’re not stopping at anything, that we are doing our work, and they’re giving us more details of things that were happing in Negros Oriental, they’re giving us documents that we can work on to start with because it’s a lot of work to do, regarding achieving lasting peace in Negros Oriental,” Remulla said.
Even Degamo’s widow, according to Remulla, expressed her satisfaction with how the task force is handling the case.
Remulla noted that the investigation in the Degamo killing is 80 to 90 percent complete, adding they already have nine persons in custody who were believed to have directly participated in the crime.
“These nine people have been talking to the authorities about their roles in the incident that happened last March 4,” Remulla said.
When asked if the task force had already established Teves’ direct link in the crime, Remulla said: “The conspiracy, the masterminds, it will come when it’s there. If things are already clear. We have ideas about it but it’s not enough for us to reveal anything that we discovered. We have to work on everything.”
Remulla also appealed to Teves to stop making excuses in delaying his return to the country.
The DOJ chief said Teves should use official channels in answering allegations against him and not through other means.
Remulla added that Teves should also return to the country and file his counter-affidavit in the murder and illegal possession of firearms charges filed against him.
‘Err on the side of caution’
Meanwhile, Teves’ camp said they respect President Marcos’ call for the lawmaker to return to the country and answer all the allegations against him, including his involvement in several killings in the province in 2019.
However, Teves’ lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said his client would rather err on the side of caution considering the threats to his life and his family.
Topacio said Marcos might not have been privy to intelligence reports on the threats on Teves.
“We will respect the statements of the President. As you know I am also a BBM supporter but of course we would rather err on the side of caution because he might not be privy about the intelligence information or there is a possibility, or there is this thing we call cordon sanitaire where information reaching him were already filtered,” Topacio said in an ambush interview after the first preliminary hearing on the complaint of illegal possession of firearms and explosives filed against Teves and several others.
He said this is the reason why Teves appealed to Marcos to listen to other sources of intelligence other than those given by people around him. With Joel R. San Juan