Philippine congressman faces murder complaints

A PHILIPPINE congressman faces multiple murder complaints before the Department Justice (DoJ) over the killing of a local official.

Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Wednesday filed the complaints against Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo A. Teves, Jr., Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla told reporters. A copy of the complaint had yet to be made public.

The congressman, who had gone into hiding overseas, is accused of conspiring to murder Negros Oriental Governor Roel R. Degamo and eight others on March 4. Fifteen people were also hurt during the shooting at the late governor’s residential compound.

“Flight is an indication of guilt — by any language, by any jurisdiction and by any legal system,” Mr. Remulla said.

Mr. Teves, whose application for asylum in Timor-Leste was rejected earlier, was likely to return to the Philippines on May 17, the Justice chief said, citing a “reliable source.”

The suspended congressman has denied involvement in the crime and cited threats against him and his family.

Mr. Remulla said Mr. Tevas has to come home so he could answer the complaints before government prosecutors.

Ferdinand S. Topacio, the congressman’s lawyer, said he had received information that some witnesses have recanted their testimonies against his client.

“It’s about time,” he told CNN Philippines, commenting on the filing of the complaints. “They [DoJ] claim to have solid evidence but I have heard from various sources that some witnesses have recanted their testimonies.”

Last month, the House of Representatives suspended the congressman for 60 days for failing to report back to work after his travel authority expired on March 9.

The International Criminal Police Organization has issued a so-called blue notice against Mr. Teves, which allows the Philippine government to gain information when he travels to different countries.

Mr. Remulla has said the country’s anti-terrorism council might discuss how to go about designating the suspended congressman as a terrorist under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

The Philippine Foreign Affairs department on May 9 said Timor-Leste had rejected the congressman’s bid for political asylum.

Interior Secretary Benjamin C. Abalos, Jr. earlier said there were 12 suspects under police custody, with 30 complaints filed before a Bayawan City regional trial court.

The Supreme Court had transferred the cases related to the murder after Mr. Remulla’s request to move them to Manila, citing a potentially hostile environment in the province for those involved.  

Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez last week urged the suspended congressman to return to the Philippines and face the charges.

“The investigation should’ve been done first before their judgment,” Mr. Teves told a virtual news briefing on April 17. “I’ll go home when I feel safe.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez