MANILA — Despite a 24-hour ultimatum, embattled Negros Oriental 3rd District Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. failed to personally attend the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges hearing on his continued absence from work, his legal counsel said Tuesday.
Teves' lawyer Ferdinand Topacio reiterated the threats on the lawmaker's life as the reason why he was still a no-show in Tuesday's hearing.
Topacio also appealed to the panel to give Teves a chance to explain his side virtually, and slammed its refusal to allow him to attend the hearing through video conferencing.
"Bakit naman ginawa nilang imposible ‘yung kondisyon, which is personal appearance? Alam naman nila na may grave danger na ngang ina-allege si Cong. Teves," Topacio said, adding that his client was allegedly deprived of his right to due process.
(Why are they making the condition impossible, which is personal appearance? They know that Cong. Teves is facing grave danger.)
“As a member of the House in good standing, he should have been given the benefit of the doubt. He should have been heard. Saka sila maghusga kung may sanctions o hindi, based on his non-appearance because of these threats to his life and security," he added.
(They should save their judgments on whether he should be given sanctions or not based on his non-appearance because of these threats to his life and security.)
Topacio said he would leave it to the House of Representatives to decide whatever sanctions his client would face.
But he maintained that Teves could not simply be expelled from his post, as this would disenfranchise his constituents.
"Expulsion is not taken lightly, especially not in connection with any crime for which a person has not been convicted of final judgment. Because if you expel a congressman, a senator, you disenfranchise the particular group of people that he represents in his district, that elected him to Congress,” said Topacio.
“The punishment should fit the offense. Hindi naman niya dini-disrespect ang House leadership. Patuloy naman kaming nakikipag-usap," he added.
(He did not disrespect the House leadership. We continue to be in talks with him.)
"Hindi naman dahil nagpapalayaw ako sa ibang bansa. Hindi naman ako namamasyal. May banta sa aking seguridad. Pati sa seguridad ng aking pamilya. Sana ay unawain naman nila,” Topacio further said, speaking on behalf of his client.
(I am not frolicking abroad. There is a threat to my security and that of my family. I hope they try to understand him.)
But the lawyer did not give further details on the "grave and serious threat" on Teves, who is facing charges murder charges over the 2019 killing of former Negros Oriental board member Miguel Dungog, as well as illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges connected to a series of raids.
The House panel earlier clarified that its probe on Teves had nothing to do with the charges he was facing, but rather on his continued absence from House sessions despite the expiration of his travel authority on March 9.
Topacio said that there was still no definite date as to when Teves would return to the country.
“We are assessing kung ano ang takbo. Kung tuloy ang pangyayari batay sa aming impormasyon na siya ay ididiin dito sa mga krimen na ito," he said.
(We are assessing how the investigation goes. Based on our information, if this goes on, he will surely be implicated in these crimes.)
"Dapat ‘yan, there is a crime, there is an investigation, suspects are identified. Ito baligtad. There is a crime, suspects were identified, there was an investigation. So there is this unavoidable and nagging feeling that they are tailoring the evidence uncovered to fit the suspect or suspects. Kaya nakakatakot eh."
(This should have been the case: there is a crime, there is an investigation, suspects are identified. The opposite is happening... That's why he's afraid.)
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla earlier said that based on latest monitoring, Teves was somewhere in Southeast Asia.
Remulla on Monday urged the congressman to return home and face the charges against him.
HOUSE TO ON TEVES CASE WITH 'BEST INTEREST OF THE NATION IN MIND': SPEAKER
The House ethics committee "is ready submit its report and recommendation for plenary action" on Teves' continuing absence, Speaker Martin Romualdez said.
"Rest assured that the House of Representatives will render its decision on this case observing due process and fully cognizant of Cong Arnie’s rights, but with the best interest of the nation in mind," he said in a statement.
Romualdez noted that in his last phone conversation with Teves, "I personally relayed my instruction for him to return to the country at once."
"I assured him that the Speaker and the House of Representatives will exert all possible means to secure his personal safety as soon as he lands back home," the House chief said.
The ethics committee voted unanimously, Espares said, adding that he cannot disclose the report and recommendation until the whole House decides on it.
The House is empowered by its own rules and the 1987 Constitution to discipline its members, but a two-thirds vote of all members is required for suspensions and expulsions, and suspensions cannot be over 60 days.