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DOJ to consider it as flight if Arnie Teves refuses to return to PH

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday said it would consider Negros Oriental Representative Arnolfo "Arnie" Teves Jr.'s overseas trip an indication of "flight" if he refuses to return to the Philippines.

"Meron tayong legal adage na mabigat diyan: Flight is an indication of guilt. We will consider this a case of flight kapag hindi siya bumalik sa bansa [if he refuses to return to the country]," Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said in an interview on Dobol B TV.

Remulla made the statement when asked what the DOJ would do if Teves would not return to the country while the government investigated the killing of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo.

In an ambush interview later in the day, Remulla said they will consider the trip a flight if Teves does not attend the preliminary investigation.

“Dito pa lang sa PI pa lang, sa preliminary investigation. We’ll give him all the avenues to come in. But there’s no value to pleadings filed when he is not present,” Remulla said.

“Like [his] statements to the media have no bearing on us because he has to present them in Court. Bakit tayo makikipag tsimisan sa mga bagay na hindi naman mapre-present sa court. Dito niya iharap. That has no value to us whatsoever,” he added.

According to Remulla, there are no hints that Teves wants to return to the country.

Teves was cleared to leave the Philippines for a personal trip to the United States from February 28 to March 9. Remulla previously said Teves is currently “somewhere in Asia.”

Teves' legal counsel, Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, earlier said the lawmaker has yet to return to the country due to concerns about his security.

Remulla dismissed Topacio's claim as “poor excuses.”

“These are poor excuses not to face the charges. And as in the legal maxim say flight is an indication of guilt,” Remulla said.

“We will construe his inability to go home or refusal to go home as flight. Meaning to say he does not want to face the charges, he’s not brave enough to face the charges,” he added.

In an interview on Unang Balita on Friday, Topacio said there is no direct evidence linking Teves to the killing of Degamo and urged authorities to look at all angles and not at just one person.

"Marami pong anggulo ang isang istorya, hindi lamang po isa, kaya huwag po tayong ma-fixate sa isang tao lamang and let us follow all leads,” he said.

(There are many angles to a story, not only one, so don’t be fixated by one person only and let us follow all leads.)

Despite assurances from Remulla and the Philippine National Police (PNP) that he will be secured in the country, Teves has asked the House leadership to grant him a two-month-long leave of absence, citing a "very grave threat" to his life and his family.

Topacio, during the Unang Balita interview, said he himself will urge Teves to return to the country once charges are formally filed.

“Nasa sa kanya po ‘yun ngunit bilang kanyang abugado, of course, I will advise him to come back… 'Yun po ang katungkulan ng isang abugado na payuhan ang kanyang kliyente na bumalik,” Topacio said.

(It’s up to him but as his lawyer, I would advise him to come back. This is the job of a lawyer, to advise his client to return.)

“Pero siyempre po ang mga ganyang kilos, that course of action, is entirely left to the discretion of the client. Tayo naman po ay tagapayo lang po,” he added.

(Of course, the course of action is entirely left to the discretion of the client. We are only here to advise.)

Remulla said the DOJ is also looking into other evidence, even though the statements taken so far in the investigation have "inevitably" led to Teves.

“Well, inevitably napupunta sa kanya ang statements na nakukuha natin sa mga tao, pero [statements inevitably lead to him, but] we will look at the other evidence,” he said.

“Kasi hindi naman puwedeng... accusatory process na walang ebidensya. Titignan natin ‘yung ibang ebidensya. Titignan natin 'yung puwede natin makalap na facts para sabihin natin ‘yung fairness hindi makwe-kwestyon,” he added.

(Because this is not just an accusatory process without evidence. We'll look at other evidence. We'll look at the facts so that our fairness will not be questioned.)

On March 4, Degamo and five others were killed while several others were injured in the attack that was pulled off while the governor was distributing aid to his constituents at his residence in Pamplona, Negros Oriental. The death toll later increased to nine.

Arrested suspects in the killing later named a certain “Cong Teves” as the person who ordered the killing.

The incumbent congressman in Negros Oriental is Arnie Teves. His brother, former Bayawan City Mayor Pryde Henry Teves, also served as a representative before running against Degamo in the 2022 elections.

Teves earlier said he and his brother were not involved in the attack against Degamo.

Meanwhile, Remulla said Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo, wife of the slain governor, will visit him at the DOJ next week along with other mayors of Negros Oriental.

“It’s a pre-arranged thing. Inintay lang namin mailibing talaga si Governor Roel Degamo and of course this frees their schedule up already for us to be able to meet them about many of the other crimes that they want to be investigated, that are there on record,” he said.

Asked about Janice Degamo wanting to freeze the assets of Teves, Remulla said "those things can be done."

“Well, we will hear all the pleas. But those things can be done. We’ll just follow due process. Yun lang naman yun,” he said. —KBK/VBL, GMA Integrated News