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House expels Arnie Teves for disorderly behavior

The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to expel Negros Oriental Representative Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves, Jr. for disorderly conduct and his continued absence despite an expired travel authority

In an unprecedented move against one of their own, the House members expelled Teves with a vote of 265 in favor, zero against, and three abstentions.

The House plenary's decision stemmed from the recommendation made by the House Committee on Ethics chaired by Coop-NATCCO party-list Representative Felimon Espares.

“The prolonged unauthorized absence of Rep. A. Teves Jr. deprives the 3rd District of Negros Oriental of proper representation and undermines the efficiency of the legislative process," the committee report read.

"Instead of actively participating in deliberations on important legislative measures pending in the House, the representative refuses to return to the country and perform his duties as House Member,” it added.

“All these actuations of a legislative district representative weakens the institution's effectiveness in serving the public and tarnishes the integrity and reputation of the House,” the committee report said.

Teves, citing threats to his and his family’s life, has refused to return to the country since March after the Department of Justice linked him to the March 4 assassination of Negros Oriental governor Roel Degamo.

Teves has denied involvement in the crime.

He, however, has been indicted for murder and other related charges over killings in Negros Oriental in 2019.

Rizal representative Jack Duavit of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), a party-mate of Teves, said Teves was given due process in the House and that it is his own absence that did him in.

“He may believe that there are people who are trying to kill him but it is not something that has been proven or can be proven. At the same time, how can we justify that we just give him a pass [on absences] for whatever reason?” Duavit said in a press conference.

“You cannot just disappear,” he added.

Duavit, however, said the NPC is yet to decide on Teves’ status as a party member.

“We are still discussing, because we also have a local party in Negros Oriental...we are asking them how do they feel about it. Some are saying he should be removed, while others are still on the fence,”  Duavit said.

Lastly, Duavit said that the House’s decision does not prejudge Teves on the pending criminal charges against him.

“We combed through the committee report, and it was made very clear that his continuous absence is the one untenable and indefensible,” Duavit added.

'Kangaroo court'

The Teves camp lamented the decision, calling it "a dark day for the Rule of Law."

“The proceedings before the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges are nothing but that of a kangaroo court," Teves’ lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, said in a statement.

"From the start of the proceedings, it bore all the hallmarks of an inquisition: the Committee was the motu proprio Complainant, making it both the accuser and the judge; Rep. Teves was never allowed to participate in the proceedings by himself, but only through letters of his counsel, who were never even allowed to present; the hearings, although impressed with public interest, was kept secret, like a medieval Court of the Star Chamber; and the final recommendation shows that there was never a bona fide intention to consider the evidence in favor of Mr. Teves."

Gov’t terror tag a dangerous precedent

Page 13 of the committee report against Teves states that “when a Member of the House of Representatives is designated as a terrorist, it poses a significant threat to the integrity and dignity of the institution.”

The same committee report noted that such designation on a lawmaker is a serious and an unprecedented matter.

“Terrorism involves acts of extreme violence and grave disturbance of peace and order all aimed at destabilizing society and undermining democratic values. If a Member is prima facie found to be involved in terrorist activities, it erodes public trust in the legislative body and the democratic process. It effectively strips off the moral ascendancy of Congress to enact measures that are precisely aimed at combating terrorism,” the committee report read.

“Therefore, designating an incumbent House Member as terrorist and characterizing him as a possible threat to national security seriously tarnish the  name and reputation of the House of Representatives. The Committee therefore finds the designation of Rep. A. Teves Jr. was deemed a terrorist by  the Anti-Terrorism Council to have seriously injured the name, honor, and stature of the  House of Representatives and its place in the Philippine democratic system,” the committee report added.

House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro of ACT Teachers party-list, Arlene Brosas of Gabriela party-list and Kabataan party-list Representative Raoul Manuel—all members of the Makabayan bloc—abstained from voting, since the committee report mentioned the Anti-Terrorism Council’s designation of Teves as a terrorist.

“I abstain from the vote because the committee report stated a decision of the Anti-Terrorism Council, which is a questionable body to begin with,” Manuel said, referring to the body created under the 2020 Anti-Terrorism law.

House Deputy Minority Leader Mujiv Hataman of Basilan, for his part, skipped the plenary vote on the Teves, also citing the committee report's mention of the terrorist designation.

Hataman argued that the crimes Teves is accused of is not covered by the Section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism law, which defines terrorism as something that “intimidate the general public or a segment thereof, create an atmosphere or spread a message of fear, to provoke or influence by intimidation the government or any international organization, or seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic, or social structures of the country, or create a public emergency or seriously undermine public safety.”

“Nagpasiya na tayong hindi bumoto sa expulsion ni Congressman Arnolfo Teves dahil hindi tayo sang-ayon sa isa sa mga ginamit na basehan ng Committee of Ethics sa rekomendasyon nito laban sa mambabatas. Naniniwala ako na ang mga krimeng ibinibintang kay Ginoong Teves, gaano man kasama at karumaldumal, ay kayang parusahan sa ilalim ng Revised Penal Code,” Hataman said.

(We decided to skip the plenary vote on Congressman Teves’ expulsion because we do not agree with the basis of which he was penalized. No matter how heinous the crimes he is alleged of, I believe those are punishable under the Revised Penal Code.)

“To define them as terrorism might be expanding the specific intent and wording of the law on terrorism. We are setting a dangerous precedent in this Ethics case against Congressman Teves by using his designation as a terrorist as one of the bases for his expulsion. It is my firm belief that that basis should have been stricken off the committee report,” Hataman added.

Before the House plenary voted on the House ethics panel recommendation to expel Teves, House Deputy Minority Leader Castro and Iloilo Representative Janette Garin also sought clarification from Espares on the weight of the terrorist designation proscribed by the government on Teves.

“For the record, Mr. Chairman, this [decision on Teves] will not mean any member of Congress listed as terrorist by the ATC would be found in violation of Code of Conduct and such [designation] will not be a ground for expulsion, is that clear?” Garin said.

“Mr. Speaker, [are we clear that] such designation by ATC won’t be a basis for any of us to be expelled?” Castro added.

To which Espares replied, “The [terrorist] designation of ATC for our colleague is not the basis of our recommendation [for expulsion].”

Murder charges, terror tag

Murder charges have been filed in court against Teves, Hannah Mae Sumerano, Richard "Boy" Cuadra, Jasper "Bobong" Tanasan, Alex Mayagma, and Rolando Pinili.

The case stemmed from the deaths of Michael Dungog, a former board member in the third district of Negros Oriental; Lester Bato, a bodyguard for Basay mayoralty candidate Cliff Cordoval; and Pacito Libron, an alleged hitman.

Teves’ camp previously said that they were not surprised by the government's decision to press charges, reiterating that the proceedings before the JDOJ had been "reduced to nothing more than a moro-moro.''

Last month, the Anti-Terrorism Council designated Teves and 12 others terrorists.

Approved on July 26, ATC’s Resolution Number 43 tagged as terrorists the following individuals who allegedly violated some provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act:

  • Congressman Arnolfo "Arnie" Alipit Teves, Jr.
  • Pryde Henry A. Teves
  • Marvin H. Miranda
  • Rogelio C. Antipolo
  • Rommel Pattaguan
  • Winrich B. Isturis
  • John Louie Gonyon
  • Daniel Lora
  • Eulogio Gonyon Jr.
  • Tomasino Aledro
  • Nigel Electona
  • Jomarie Catubay
  • Hannah Mae Sumero Oray

The Council said their violations include committing terrorism; planning, training, preparing and facilitating the commission of terrorism; recruitment to and membership in a terrorist organization; and providing material support to terrorists.

Teves’ camp, in response, said such a move is no surprise anymore because of the political prosecution against the lawmaker.

"Since Day One of the Degamo killing, the government has mobilized all the resources at its disposal, starting with immediately tagging Mr. Teves as the mastermind thereof without investigation, conducting illegal searches on his properties, laying siege to his powers and prerogatives as member of the House, embarking on a massive media campaign to discredit him and prejudice the minds of the public against him, among others, all in an obsessive attempt to blame him for a crime at the expense of his Constitutional rights,” Teves lawyer Topacio said in a separate statement. — BM/NB, GMA Integrated News