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Arnie Teves released from Timor Leste detention but is re-arrested says DOJ

Former Negros Oriental Representative Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves Jr. has been released from preventive detention in Becora Prison in Dili, Timor Leste, his camp said Monday.

“Rep. Arnoldo Teves released from preventive detention,” Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, his legal counsel, said in a message to reporters. 

According to Topacio, Teves was released pending his extradition trial.

Despite this development, he said Teves still cannot leave Timor-Leste.

"According to the CRA Law Office and Dr. Jose Ximenez, there are still judicial proceedings that Rep. Teves will have to undergo relating to his continued stay in Timor Leste,” Topacio said.

Meanwhile, Topacio claimed that the Philippine government’s request for extradition was “made out of time and in a manner that is not sanctioned by practice and customary international law.”

“In other words, our government 'screwed up.' Thus, his imprisonment was declared illegal,” he said.

GMA News Online has sought comment from the Department of Justice (DOJ) but has yet to receive a response as of posting time.

For its part, the DOJ said the release, Topacio said their camp has no further comments as of posting time. 

He said a formal statement would be released later.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice said the release “was quite improbable” but it would check with authorities in Timor Leste.

In a statement, the DOJ slammed Topacio’s claims as misleading, saying the "release and subsequent re-arrest of the former congressman from prison to the Polícia Nacional of Timor Leste is part of the country’s process". 

“The Department was able to submit all requirements ahead of time and in a manner fully compliant with Timor Leste’s law. Thus, the statements of Atty. Topacio are misleading, highly irresponsible and an insult to both countries,” said the DOJ.

“He ought to know that while he owes fealty to his client, he remains an officer of the court and must act accordingly to maintain its majesty and integrity,” it added.

The DOJ also said Teves remains under the custody of Timor Leste police and would continue to stand trial for his anticipated extradition.

“The Department is confident that the extradition proceedings will be successful. In addition, the former congressman may also still be deported depending on the direction taken by the Timor Leste government in coordination with the Philippines,” the agency said.

“We appreciate the steps currently being undertaken by the Timor Leste government to remove him from their territory and we eagerly anticipate his return to the Philippines so he can face the multiple murder charges,” it added. 

Teves’ camp previously denied reports that the former lawmaker would soon be deported out of Timor-Leste back to the Philippines.

In March, Teves was arrested in Dili while playing golf based on the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) red notice issued against him in February.

A red notice is a request for law enforcement worldwide to locate and arrest a person pending his extradition, surrender, or similar legal action.

The notice stemmed from the multiple murder charges filed against Teves for for the killing of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo and others at the home of the then-governor on March 4, 2023. 

Aside from the murder of Degamo, Teves and others have also been charged with the deaths of three individuals in Negros Oriental in 2019.

Teves and 12 others have also been designated as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council, citing several alleged killings and harassment in Negros Oriental.

In early February, a Manila Court ordered the cancellation of his passport.

He was expelled by the House of Representatives in August last year for disorderly conduct and continued absence despite an expired travel authority.

GMA News Online has sought comment from the camp of Mayor Janice Degamo, the widow of the late governor, but has yet to receive a response as of posting time.—LDF/RF, GMA Integrated News