The Department of Justice (DOJ) is eyeing to have the passport of suspended Negros Oriental Representative Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves Jr. be canceled, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said Wednesday.
In an ambush interview, Remulla said they will file for the cancellation at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) once the cases against Teves have been filed before the courts.
“But effectively, passports can be canceled when there is already a court case, so we will wait for the cases to be filed before our courts by the prosecutors, by the panel of prosecutors, before we seek for the cancellation of the passport,” Remulla said.
According to the Justice chief, this is because the DOJ must respect the constitutional right to travel.
“So that he can be recognized as a Filipino citizen under the protection of the state. So given that, we will only cancel it when there is cause to cancel it which is a court case for murder or terrorism or whatever cases will be filed,” Remulla said.
In Ian Cruz's report on "24 Oras", the DOJ said Teves initially went to the U.S. and then moved to South Korea. He later traveled to Cambodia and returned to South Korea before going to Timor Leste, where he is allegedly currently located.
Remulla earlier told CNN Philippines that the NBI will file for the cancellation once the complaint against Teves for allegedly masterminding the killing of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo and nine others is filed at the DOJ.
Remulla also alleged that Teves has passports with different nationalities.
“We can cancel the passport. Pero may hawak na ibang passport yan. May hawak pa yan na ibang passport… may hawak pa, ibang nationality, may hawak yan,” Remulla said in an ambush interview.
(We can cancel the passport but he has other passports. He has other passports on hand with different nationalities. He has them.)
However, when sought for clarification, Remulla said he received information that Teves is still seeking one.
“I have information that he has sought. Alam niyo naman itong mga golden passports are actually sold by different states so that you can use other passports for visa-free entry in other countries,” he said.
“We can find out. That has been a tip to us that he is also a holder of another passport from another jurisdiction,” he added.
For their part, Teves’ legal counsel, Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, said there is no basis for the cancellation of Teves passport at this point.
Topacio said a passport may only be cancelled when one is a fugitive from justice, when one has been convicted of a crime, and when the passport was fraudulently acquired or tampered with.
“Cong. Teves' situation does not fall under any of those grounds. To cancel his passport now would be violative of his right to travel as enshrined in the Constitution,” Topacio told GMA News Online.
Topacio also raised alarm over Remulla supposedly being sure that cases will be filed against Teves.
“It appears that he is very sure that cases will be filed. He should have said ‘we will wait IF cases will be filed.’ Scary pa rin,” Topacio said.
(It's still scary.)
On Tuesday, Remulla bared that the lawmaker entered Timor-Leste a week ago to seek political asylum.
Shortly after, the DFA announced that Ministry of Interior of Timor-Leste confirmed that Teves’ application was denied. It said Teves was granted five days to either leave the country or file an appeal.
The Justice Secretary, however, said he believes that Teves is still in Timor-Leste.
“I think he’s still there. Maybe he’s going back to Korea, knowing that the situation that he has been doing. He’s been shuffling between Korea and Cambodia and, I think, Bangkok where many of his people are staying right now,” Remulla said.
“I think that he will just go around these countries while he still has his passport,” he added.
Remulla earlier said that Teves appears to be the mastermind behind the March 4 shooting at the late governor’s home, likening him to an “executive producer.”
Teves, who has yet to return to the country due to concerns for his safety, has denied involvement in the assassination.
Meanwhile, Remulla said they do not see any indication that former Negros Oriental Governor Pryde Henry Teves, the lawmaker’s brother, could be one of the masterminds.
“Not yet him. We don’t see him yet. At all. He has not turned up positive to be a major actor. The other person who is very much in the mix is Marvin [Miranda]. And there are others that we are eyeing… and we might just add them later on,” he said.
Remulla previously said that Miranda was one of the alleged masterminds in the killing. He was nabbed by authorities after supposedly fleeing from Negros Oriental.
In April, Arnie Teves confirmed that Miranda used to be his bodyguard but stressed that it's been a while since he last talked to Miranda.
According to Remulla, Teves has two others assisting him. He, however, declined to disclose their identities.
“Sino ang nagsabi na gamitin yung helicopter para makatakas yung mga tao at dalhin sila sa ibang lugar. That’s a very important fact here kasi ano ‘yan eh, cover up na ‘yan, at saka kasama pa rin ‘yan sa grand plan that the suspects would flee to safety,” he said.
He also expressed hope that the government can designate the two individuals as terrorists.
“Yes, hopefully, we can do the same. But we have to validate. The problem with information in murder cases is that they are not easy to come up with, information that can be validated immediately,” he said.
Meanwhile, Remulla said he now considers Arnie Teves to be a fugitive.
“Ah, yes, because he also has another case for a double murder committed in 2019 and search warrants also served in his house which is positive for many effects and, of course, the fact that he is really the main suspect in the murder of Governor Degamo as the mastermind makes him a fugitive from justice,” Remulla said.
When asked if there is a possibility that Teves will seek asylum in another country, Remulla said it would not be that easy as there is an ongoing process of designating him as a terrorist.
The Department of Justice sought the designation and proscription of Teves as a terrorist to force him to surrender to authorities.
“Kasi may ano pa eh, we’re putting them on notice also that he’s being designated a terrorist. There’s a process now ongoing designating him a terrorist within the anti-terror council in the country,” Remulla said.
In the ambush interview, he said Teves may be designated as a terrorist within two weeks.
“Tapos yung terrorism charge, ma de-designate pa lang siya mga two weeks from now… proseso yan,” Remulla said.
Meanwhile, Remulla said that the possible proscription of Teves comes after his designation as a terrorist.
“The advantage of course of designation is that assets can be frozen and assets that are used to cover up, to bribe, to do things that will help him evade responsibility will be frozen by the Anti-Money Laundering Council,” he said.
When asked if only organizations can be proscribed as a terrorist, Remulla said Teves will be proscribed as part of a “gambling organization that may have done terrorist acts”
At the Senate, Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, who is leading the Senate inquiry into the killing of Degamo, said he believes that the world is getting smaller for Teves after Timor-Leste denied the latter’s application for political asylum.
“Paliit na ng paliit yung kanyang mundo, but then again kahit gaano kaliit, if desisido siya to take his chances of not going home then he can do it, diskarte niya iyan,” Dela Rosa said.
(The world is getting smaller for him but that won’t matter. If he is really determined to take his chances of not going home, then he can do it.)
Dela Rosa said he is convinced that Teves has no plans of returning to the Philippines. “Just like mga previous people in the same situation with him, maghihintay na lang ng after this admin tsaka mag-surface… Baka ganoon ang diksarte.”
“It’s an accepted saying ‘flight means guilt’ pero for me, I still have to leave my mind open… Ongoing pa ‘yung hearing natin mahirap na mag-come up kaagad tayo ng conclusion as early as this stage na hindi pa tayo natapos sa investigation,” he added.
(It’s an accepted saying that ‘flight means guilt’ but for me, I still have to leave my mind open… The investigation is still ongoing so it is hard to come up with a conclusion as early as this stage.) — with Hana Bordey/RSJ/ VAL, GMA Integrated News