MANILA — The legal counsel of Negros Oriental 3rd District Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. on Monday blasted calls to freeze his client's assets amid allegations of the embattled lawmaker's supposed involvement in the murder of Governor Roel Degamo and another local politician.
In a press conference, Teves' lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said that the proposal was "uncalled for," "unsubstantiated," and "libelous."
“May calls to freeze the assets of Cong. Teves. Ang reason, para raw hindi makapanuhol ‘di umano si Cong. Teves. Hindi po reason ‘yun sa batas, kasi ina-assume mo na ang isang tao ay manunuhol," Topacio said.
(There are calls to freeze Cong. Teves' assets to prevent him from allegedly paying off people. That is not a valid reason under the law, because you're assuming someone would resort to bribery.)
“There are procedures laid down in the law. Sumunod tayo sa batas bago natin i-freeze,” he added.
(Let us follow the law before we freeze his assets.)
Topacio also slammed calls for Teves' expulsion from the House of Representatives, saying the move would disenfranchise his client's constituents.
“Mayroon po tayong presumption of innocence. Mayroon tayong procedure for expulsion at may grounds for expulsion. Hindi basta-basta ine-eexpel ang isang miyembro ng Kamara. Not only because of the presumption of innocence, but because ‘pag basta-basta ine-expel ang isang miyembro ng Kamara, you disenfranchise the district that congressman is representing,” Topacio said.
(We have the presumption of innocence, as well as procedure and grounds for expulsion. A member of the House cannot just be expelled. If you expel a member of the House, you disenfranchise the district that congressman is representing.)
The calls were earlier made by Degamo's widow, Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo, shortly after her slain husband was laid to rest last week.
Meanwhile, Topacio showed the media proof that their camp sent a reply via email to the House Ethics and Privileges Committee and the office of House Speaker Martin Romualdez regarding the panel’s request for an explanation on Teves’s failure to return to the Philippines, even after his travel clearance issued by the House of Representatives had expired.
In the letter reply, Topacio said his client wished to clarify that the Speaker’s call for him to “come home” “may hardly be construed as a 'direct order'”.
“By the tenor of the good Speaker’s statements on the matter, it is pellucid that he merely made a friendly advice to Rep. Teves to return to the country to 'face allegations' relating to the murder of Gov. Roel Degamo… It was an expression of concern, which our client deeply appreciates, but is far from being a command or directive,” Topacio said in the letter.
“There is thus no deliberate disregard of any order coming from the House leadership, especially in the light of the fact that our client has received information from sources reliable in the past that there are imminent and serious threats to his life, and also that of his family, making it injudicious form him to return to the Philippines at this time,” he added.
Topacio expressed regrets that Teves would be unable to personally attend the ethics committee hearing on Monday, even as he told reporters that morning that his client would join the hearing virtually.
Teves' lawyer later said the congressman's participation did not push through as he was not allowed to do attend through teleconferencing.
“Paano nila mariring ang panig ng isang tao? If you want to really and sincerely hear the side of Cong. Teves, anong problema kung hindi personal appearance? Anong problema kung video teleconferencing? Pwede nang bumoto sa Kongreso ng video teleconferencing. Bakit hindi pwedeng magpaliwanag?” Topacio asked.
(How can they hear someone's side of the story? What's the problem if he could not make a personal appearance? Is there a problem if he attends via video teleconferencing? Lawmakers can vote in Congress virtually. But why can't they explain?)
“What part of grave and serious threats do you not understand? …Bukod tanging si Cong. Teves lang yata ang tinatrato ng ganito… Hindi pa nga nag-uumpisa ang imbestigasyon, ganito na ang trato sa kanya. Hindi ko na po maintindihan,” he added.
(I think only Cong. Teves is being treated like this. The investigation hasn't even started yet but he is already being treated this way. I really do not understand.)
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla earlier called on Teves to come home and face the allegations against him.
“Umuwi na siya para, face the charges. Kung talagang wala siyang kasalanan, lalabas siya,” Remulla told reporters.
(He needs to come home and face the charges against him. If he is indeed innocent, he would surface.)
Teves, a scion of an influential political family in Negros, is facing murder charges over the killing of Negros Oriental board member Miguel Dungog and several others in 2019.
He was also being investigated for his alleged involvement in the Degamo murder earlier this month, even after he released a video statement on Facebook denying he had a hand in the slay.
Aside from murder charges, Teves was also facing several counts of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, one of which was dropped over the weekend.