By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief
MANILA/SAN FRANCISCO — Rep. Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves has been implicated by two arrested suspected killers of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo and has been impleaded in murder charges and other charges filed against the assassins and others following police raids on the lawmaker’s homes amid insistence that he was innocent.
Teves, whose travel authority from Congress for supposed medical treatment in the United States expired on March and has asked for two-month extension, earlier was charged with murder in connection four separate killings in the province since 2019.
At press time, Degamo was being buried in his hometown in Negros and Malacanang declared a special holiday in Negros Oriental to enable the people to mourn and join the burial rites. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Vice President Sara Duterte, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, several senators, congressmen and leaders visited Degamo’s wake as they called for justice for the slain governor.
Marcos, who denounced the brazen killing of the governor, has ordered the creation of a special task force on the Degamo assassination as thousands of Army soldiers and police operatives have been assigned in the province to beef up local forces even as an overhaul of police officers assigned in Negros Oriental, especially in Bayawan City, was enforced.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Benhur Abalos Jr. disclosed murder and other cases have been filed against the suspects in the killing of the Negros Oriental governor.
Facing reporters, Abalos said apart from the eight murder charges, authorities filed six cases of frustrated murder, one case of illegal possession of firearms, and two cases of Illegal possession of explosives against the suspects.
Abalos also said 13 more cases were expected to be filed: a murder case, nine frustrated murder cases, and three attempted murder cases.
There were 27 victims in the Degamo slay; nine of whom were killed while 15 were injured, he added.
Degamo was gunned down by 10 former soldiers clad in military uniforms and bulletproof vedsts with powerful long firearms inside his residential compound in Barangay San Isidro in Pamplona town, Negros Oriental on March 4 while he was meeting with his constituents when around 10 armed men entered his compound and opened fire.
The Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) has also filed before the Department of Justice complaints for illegal possession of firearms against the Negros Oriental congressman and his sons after policemen recovered firearms, ammunition and grenades from one of six Teves’ homes raided by the lawmen, according to Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla.
“We will look at these cases filed against Congressman Teves, his two sons,” Remulla said.
The raids as well as the complaint is connected to the complaints for three counts of murder the CIDG filed against Teves for allegedly masterminding killings in 2019 in Negros.
“We will ask them to answer these charges already filed before the Department of Justice,” Remulla said.
Remulla earlier assured Teves that he will be secured and safe once he returns.
Remulla has said Teves already left the United States and was “somewhere in Asia,” but he later said nothing is yet definite on where the lawmaker might be staying.
Teves had asked the House leadership to grant him a two-month-long leave of absence, citing a “very grave threat” to his life and his family.
The House ethics committee, meanwhile, took jurisdiction over Teves’ case and asked the solon to explain his side on the issue and failure to do so may mean he could face expulsion from the House.
In another development, members of the PNP-CIDG arrested a staff member of embattled Negros lawmaker and five others in connection with the raid on several houses owned by the lawmaker aimed at seizing illegal firearms.
In a statement on Tuesday, the CIDG said the six individuals including Hanna Mae Sumerano Oray, Teves’ secretary, were arrested following the raids conducted in five different houses in Basay town and Bayawan City Negros Oriental province on March 10 during the service of a search warrant.
Various long and short firearms, ammunition and explosives were recovered during the operations.
“The six arrested persons are all detained at CIDG National Capital Region Field Unit (NCRFU), last Sunday (March 12) and also (underwent) inquest at CIDG Camp Crame,” CIDG Public Information Office (PIO) chief Lt. Col. Marissa Bruno told the Philippine News Agency.
Complaints for violations of Republic Act (RA) 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act and the Law on Explosives (RA 9516) were filed against Jose Pablo Gimarangan and Roland Aguisanda Pablio.
The CIDG said Teves was also “impleaded as respondent” in the cases.
Complaints for infringement of RA 10591 were also filed against Oray, Heracleo Sangasin Oray, Rodolfo Teves Maturan, and Joseph Kyle Catan Maturan.
“Unfortunately, Congressman Arnolfo Teves Jr. Kurt Mathew Teves, and Axel Teves were not around during the said implementation of the SWs in their house; however, the criminal complaints against them for violation of RA 10591 and RA 9516 will be filed as soon as possible,” the CIDG said in a statement.
CIDG director, Brig. Gen. Romeo Caramat, said the CIDG enforces the law regardless of one’s status in society.
“We will assure impartiality in the conduct of the investigation and will hold criminals accountable for the offense they committed,” said Caramat.
The raid is related to the murder charges filed by the CIDG against Teves and five other individuals last March 7 in connection to the 2019 killings of three individuals in Negros Oriental.
The CIDG charged Teves and a certain Hannah Mae, allegedly his secretary, before the Department of Justice.
Two counts of murder were likewise lodged against Richard Cuadra alias “Boy Cuadra,” Jasper Tanasan alias “Bobong Tansan” and Rolando Pinili alias “Inday,” and one count of murder against Alex Mayagma.
Teves Jr. already faces charges of murder and illegal possession of weapons.
The House ethics panel wants him to explain why he violated the limit of his travel authority and has yet to return from his US trip.
DOJ Secretary n Remulla wrote to Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo and Court Administrator Raul Villanueva on March 9 that it “anticipate(s) the filing of other cases related thereto, considering the number of victims who are yet to file their complaints.”
The DOJ chief cited logistical difficulties of conducting the trial in Negros Oriental province since some of the respondents are already detained at the National Bureau of Investigation custodial center in Manila.
After deliberating en banc, the SC statement said Villanueva “is completely in agreement and convinced that, taking into account the reasons cited by Secretary Remulla, the venue of the cases should be transferred to the RTC (Regional Trial Court) of Manila.”
The Court Administrator said “a change of venue to Manila would be in the best interest of all parties involved” and it “will provide a neutral venue where the trial can be conducted fairly and impartially, free from any undue in-fluence or bias.”
Remulla also stated in his request that the killing in Pamplona town on March 4 has created a hostile environment for the respondents and may lead to intimidation and harassment of the suspects, private complainants, and other witnesses.
For “all future cases” that may be filed in relation to the subject charges now pending before the courts in Negros Oriental, Villanueva recommended that the SC may also order the transfer to the Manila RTC.
Earlier charged in connection with the Degamo killing were four former soldiers arrested in follow-up operations — Benjie Rodriguez, Joric Labrador, Joven Javier, and Osmundo Rivero — and other John Does.
Aside from the nine killed, 15 were injured.