MANILA (UPDATE) — The House of Representatives is considering the call of slain Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo's widow to expel Rep. Arnolfo Teves, Jr. from his congressional seat, an official said Thursday.
The chamber has endorsed to its legal department a letter from the governor's wife, Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo, who is "calling for the expulsion" of Teves, said House Secretary General Reginald Velasco.
"Yung mga nangyayari sa Negros ngayon na para sinasabi niya (Mayor Degamo) may kinalalaman si Cong. Arnie Teves dito. Pero lahat 'yan allegations pa at this time kasi under investigation 'yan by our competent authorities... Pag-aaralan namin kung ano yung magiging action ng House of Representatives," Velasco told media in an interview.
(She is alleging that Cong. Arnie Teves has something to do with what is happening in Negros. But these are all allegations at this time because these are under investigation by our competent authorities. We will study what the action of the House of Representatives would be.)
Velasco declined to provide media a copy of Mayor Degamo's letter.
He explained that the letter could be eventually referred to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, whose report recommending Teves' suspension was approved by 292 lawmakers on Wednesday.
The panel had recommended Teves' 60-day suspension after his failure to return from abroad despite the expiration of his travel authority and the urging of House leaders.
Teves is fighting allegations of involvement in the assassination of Governor Degamo after he was implicated by a suspect. The lawmaker has maintained that he and his clan had nothing to do with the crime.
"Medyo matindi yung request niya (Mayor Degamo), expulsion. Eh yung expulsion naman for any House member, may proseso rin yan... But we do not want to preclude the Committee on Ethics. We will have to await the decision of the Committee on Ethics on what to do with this new development," Velasco said.
(Her request is serious, expulsion. The expulsion of any House has to go through a process.)
Velasco explained that Teves' suspension was already effective and that the lawmaker was informed of the House decision.
The House official said that the suspension is counted in terms of calendar days, during which the lawmaker would not get his salary and financial benefits.
"Under our rules, wala ho siyang entitlement sa salary or all privileges, monetary privileges," Velasco said.
The House still has to decide on what to do with the the office of Teves and his office budget and office staff, noting the unprecedented nature of the lawmaker's suspension.
Section 10 of the House Rules states: Any Member legally barred by competent authority from attending sessions and performing such other functions as a Member of the House of Representatives shall be denied salary, other compensation, office space and other privileges to which Members are entitled as of the date the bar becomes effective.
Upon the lifting or cessation of such bar, the salary and other entitlements that were denied will be restored.
Ethics panel chair and COOP NATCCO Party-list Rep. Felimon Espares, meanwhile, said that expulsion is a collegial decision that could happen.
When asked about what happens to their colleague's constituency in case of an expulsion, Espares explained that the House has options.
"May rule din dito sa House na pwedeng magtalaga ng isang caretaker, pero practically, baka may special elections kung may time pa na pwede gawin, like what happened dito sa mga kasamahan namin na naging executive, nakakuha ng executive position... They conducted special election in their district," he said.
Espares also said that the House will not be able to protect Teves from supposed security threats if he remains outside the country. He noted their panel will no longer have jurisdiction over cases filed in courts.
Espares rejected Teves' claim that he was being singled out over his absence.
"Dapat kung wala ka dito, dapat authorized 'yung travel mo sa labas na pwede ka rin deemed present. But then, dahil na expire na, 'di rin authorize ang panawagan natin. Kaya nga nag-extend tayo ng additional 24 hours para bumalik dito sa Pilipinas dahil ... wala na siyang authority to stay there para matuloy yung kaniyang trabaho," Espares said.
"With that continuing defiance, wala tayong magawa. 'Yung committee natin in-exhaust namin yung mga deliberation. So 'yun na, 'di rin pwede palagpasin," he added.
Espares explained their colleague was not allowed to join via online conferencing precisely because his travel authority expired.
"Kailangan ka bumalik rito para maging present. So 'yun maging precedent kasi sa part ng House din na kahit absent 'yung colleagues natin, pinapayagan na mag-participate dito sa lahat ng activities ng House, ibig sabihin pwede ka lang as long as you are present," he said.
Espares also maintained that the panel had to leave out Teves in their teleconference for House duties.
"We do not allow any online participation kasi we need really to secure our confidentiality dito," he explained.
MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION
Teves may file a motion for reconsideration of his suspension, which will have to be studied by the Committee on Ethics, Velasco said.
In a separate text message, Committee on Ethics and Privileges Vice Chair Nueva Ecija 3rd District Rep. Ria Vergara agreed that her colleague could always file an appeal.
"Per the rules of the House, Cong Arnie may file an MR with the House - the MR will be brought to the Legal department. Should the legal department deny the MR, then Cong Arnie may bring it to the SC," Vergara said in a text message.