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Teves not a fugitive, not resisting legal processes — Topacio

Suspended Negros Oriental Representative Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves Jr., one of the alleged masterminds in the killing of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo, could not be considered a fugitive from justice, his legal counsel said Thursday.

This came after Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said he now considers the lawmaker to be a fugitive from justice as he is wanted for legal processes in the country, saying that inability to accept documents is similar to refusal.

“Now, he cannot be considered a fugitive from justice... We have been participating in all the legal processes that we have been allowed to participate in," said Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, the lawmaker’s legal counsel, said in an interview on ANC.

“And maybe the Secretary forgets the provision in the Constitution that a person under investigation for a crime may be heard by himself or by counsel,” added Topacio.

On Wednesday, Remulla also said that an Interpol notice has already been issued against Teves and that they are planning to ask the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to have his passport cancelled. 

"With regards to the notice to the Interpol he has been saying that time and again... He will do what he thinks he has to do," said Topacio about the DOJ's move. 

In an interview on CNN Philippines, Topacio said that the cancellation of Teves’ passport could be a basis for graft.

“Well, then they would be in violation of the law and we may have recourse to the courts to annul the action, and the Ombudsman because that would be a case of graft,” Topacio said.

Topacio argued that 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.

He said there is no basis to cancel the lawmaker’s passport at this point.

Topacio, meanwhile, was mum on the rejection of Teves' asylum request in Timor-Leste.

"I cannot comment on that matter because I have insufficient information regarding that matter," he said. 

On March 4, Degamo and 10 others were killed while several others were injured after an attack on the late governor’s home in Negros Oriental. 

Teves has denied involvement in the killing but refuses to go home due to "safety concerns".

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.

House Speaker Martrin Romualdez warned Teves on Wednesday that his continued absence may lead to more sanctions

Topacio aexpressed hope that the House Committee on Ethics will allow Teves to attend virtually once they tackle his possible expulsion.

“As an old saying goes in Greece, strike me if you must but hear me first. So sana mapagbigyan. I think that much courtesy. Sana naman,” Topaci said.

According to Topacio, the committee owes it to their colleague.

“I think that much courtesy, they owe to a colleague, a co-equal in terms of representation of a certain segment of the population. Because expulsion would effectively disenfranchise the voters who elected him to the lower house,” he said. —Joahna Lei Casilao/ VAL, GMA Integrated News