MANILA (UPDATED) — Rep. Arnolfo Teves, Jr. is in Timor-Leste and is trying to seek asylum, the justice department said on Tuesday.
Teves entered Timor-Leste about a week ago in an attempt to secure special asylum status, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said, citing information from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Philippine Ambassador to Timor-Leste.
"There is already an alarm sounded off every time he enters another country. All countries inform the Philippines if that person enters the boundaries of that country," Remulla said.
Philippine authorities, in a letter, told Timor-Leste that Teves is a person of interest in murder cases and is being considered for designation as a terrorist, Remulla said.
Remulla previously said Teves is considered one of the possible masterminds in the killing of Negros Oriental governor Roel Degamo and several others. Teves has maintained that he and his clan had nothing to do with the assassination.
The justice department in late April moved to label Teves as a terrorist over his refusal to return to the Philippines due to alleged threats to his life.
NO REASON FOR ASYLUM
The Justice chief said there is no reason for Teves to seek asylum since it is usually sought for political reasons.
“We don’t see any political reason for him to seek political asylum in Timor-Leste. It’s really for not wanting to face the consequences of certain actions by which he is being held to account for in the courts of law,” he said.
Remulla said he wrote a letter to Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, where he asked the DFA to inform the Timor-Leste government that the Philippines was taking concrete steps to designate Teves as a terrorist.
“We wish to inform you that the Department of Justice has taken concrete steps to designate Congressman Teves, Jr. as a terrorist under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. Verily, the undersigned has requested the Anti-Terrorism Council to create a Technical Working Group (TWG) for this purpose. Thus, last 4 May 2023, the Technical Working Group convened for its first meeting,” he said in his letter to the DFA dated May 8.
Explaining the letter to the media, Remulla said it was intended to inform “Timor-Leste that he’s (Teves) a person of interest in murder cases and he’s being considered for designation as a terrorist by the country, giving them fair warning about a person asking for asylum, may not necessarily be a good candidate for that.”
Teves left the Philippines for the United States in March. He was last reported to be in Cambodia.
He is considered the main mastermind in the March 4 killing of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo and 9 others who were gunned down in Degamo’s residence in Pamplona, Negros Oriental.
The 10th victim died over the weekend.
No complaints nor charges have been filed against Teves whether before the DOJ or the courts.
“Well, we’re about to file the cases. There are just a few details that are being ironed out,” Remulla said Tuesday.
“Anytime mafa-file 'yung case. At the latest siguro 'yan Monday pero we’re trying to do it by Friday. I’m asking them to hurry it up, na kung puwede bilisan na kasi dalawang buwan na. It’s been two months since the murders. We might as well try to file the cases, if they can already,” he added.
Sought for comment, Teves' lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, said they had "no comment as of this time."