MANILA (UPDATED) — Suspended lawmaker Arnolfo "Arnie" Teves, Jr. may be designated as a terrorist amid his continuing absence in the country, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla said Monday.
"In this case, the activities that led to the killing on March 4, all are covered under the anti-terror law: the recruitment, the financing, the purchase of firearms, the distribution of firearms," Remulla said, referring to the assassination of Negros Oriental Roel Degamo.
"As a solution to the impasse here about the surrender of Cong. Teves, we are looking at designating him or proscribing him as a terrorist, to have him proscribed by the Court of Appeals or designated by the anti-terror council because of the acts that happened," he told the Senate Committee on Public Order.
"That's really the intent, to look into all of these acts that transpired, and the proscription and designation [is] our goal further down the road. Because if the person will not surrender, then we will have to make the world smaller for him."
Reacting to Remulla's statement, Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, Teves' lawyer, said the Anti-Terrorism Act should not be used as a weapon just to break an impasse.
"You cannot weaponize a particular law enacted for a different purpose, just because you want to break an impasse of your own making. By using the Anti-Terrorism Act against a person who is not a terrorist, and not for the purpose for which the law was enacted, would distort the law and pervert the ends of justice. But if Mr. Remulla wants to show the world how the Department of Justice of the Philippines works at present, of course nothing can stop him from wielding his new-found power. As the song goes, if it makes him happy..." he said.
The Department of Justice previously said that Teves was considered one of the masterminds in the assassination of Degamo and eight others. The lawmaker said he and his clan had nothing to do with the crime.
Teves has yet to return to the country, more than a month since his travel clearance expired.
He was slapped with a 60-day suspension at the House of Representatives over his continued absence in Congress after being implicated in Degamo's murder.
Remulla said that while "everything that transpired" in the killing of Degamo had "the hallmarks of terrorism in it", investigators could not file an anti-terror case immediately "because it takes a lot of legal theory and a lot of research to be able to prove a terrorism case."
"We are afraid right now that if we immediately file that under the terrorism case, based on the crimes that transpired, it may prejudice other convictions that can be secured easily with the same punishment for murder, for multiple murders," he said.
Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos agreed with Remulla's views.
"Tamang tama po itong batas na ito dahil dito nakapalaoob ang lahat na dapat nating gawin — tanggalan ng passport, lahat, talagang ipitin na po. Kaya angkop na angkop ang anti-terror law sa mga nangyaring ito. Talagang 100 percent agree ako rito," he said at the same committee hearing.
(This law covers everything that we should do, revoke his passport and squeeze him. This law is appropriate for what happened. I agree with this. 100 percent.)
Teves was not present in the proceedings. He earlier said he and his clan had nothing to do with Degamo's March 4 assassination.