Remulla backs denial of Teves’ asylum application: No persecution, only prosecution
MANILA — The Philippine Department of Justice (DOJ) will seek the cancellation of the passports of suspended Rep. Arnolfo Teves, Jr. once a criminal case is filed against him in court.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla made this clarification on Wednesday, after initially saying in a TV interview that they were eyeing moving for the cancellation of Teves' passports next week as soon as the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed murder complaints against the embattled lawmaker with the DOJ.
Teves is accused of masterminding the assassination of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo and several others.
He is currently in Timor-Leste, reportedly seeking asylum but the Department of Foreign Affairs announced Tuesday night that his application had been denied.
“Once the NBI files a case with the prosecutors, we can now seek for the cancellation of the passport. But effectively, the passports are cancelled when there is already a court case. So we will wait for the cases to be filed before the courts by the prosecutors, by the panel of prosecutors before we seek the cancellation of the passport,” Remulla said in a press conference.
“Why? Because the right to travel is a constitutional right, so we have to respect that right. A citizen’s passport is the document evidencing his citizenship and his right to travel so he can be recognized as a Filipino citizen, under the protection of the state. So given that, we will only cancel it when there is cause to cancel it, which is a court case for murder or terrorism or whatever cases will be held,” he added.
Remulla said Teves is allegedly using two passports — a diplomatic and a regular passport both issued by the Philippine government — and has supposedly tried to secure a “golden passport” to enter other countries visa-free.
“A diplomatic passport is not a right but a privilege given to government officials. So, it’s a privilege given to us to travel with diplomatic cover. But since he’s a suspended member of the House, then he should not be using the passport,” he said.
The cancellation of Teves’ passports could make travelling difficult for him.
At the moment, Remulla said Teves has the option of travelling visa-free in Southeast Asian countries.
“ASEAN still gives visa-free entry although he cannot keep his whereabout secret anymore since there’s already an Interpol notice about his movements. So he can travel to countries where there’s visa-free entry. Of course, Korea also has visa… He can probably go back because that’s where he went for— from the US before going to Cambodia and then back to Korea and then to Timor-Leste. That’s the route that we have traced so far,” he said.
“The blue notice is there actually. What is happening now is we are informed of his movements by all jurisdictions. Once he enters a certain jurisdiction, they already inform us of his movements. That’s why Timor Leste immediately informed the Philippine government of his presence there,” he added.
A blue Interpol notice requires law enforcement agencies from other countries to “collect additional information about a person's identity, location or activities in relation to a criminal investigation.”
Eleven individuals have been charged in court for multiple murder, frustrated and attempted murder in connection with the Degamo killing but no complaint with the DOJ nor cases in court have been filed yet against Teves.
Remulla hopes the NBI could file the murder raps with the DOJ by Monday.
TEVES’ LAWYER: NO BASIS TO CANCEL PASSPORT
Teves’ lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, pushed back against the DOJ’s plan to cancel the passports of his client.
“There is no basis for the cancellation of Cong. Teves' passport at this time. There are only three instances when a Philippine passport may be cancelled: when one is a fugitive from justice; when one has been convicted of a crime; and when the passport was fraudulently acquired or has been tampered with,” he said in a message to ABS-CBN News.
But Remulla now considers Teves a fugitive.
“Well, technically he’s been a fugitive because he’s been wanted for the legal processes that may be served upon him in the country and refusal to accept documents or inability to accept documents is like inability, can be a refusal,” he said.
While illegal possession of firearms and explosives complaints and murder complaints over separate killings in 2019 have been filed against Teves before the DOJ, none have been filed in court at the moment, according to Topacio.
Meanwhile, Remulla backed Timor-Leste’s denial of Teves’ asylum application.
“Asylum is a term used to seek protection from a state from persecution. But this is not the case because there’s no persecution involved here. What’s happening here is that there is prosecution happening, not persecution,” he said.
He added that it’s also possible that the Timor-Leste government did not want to get involved in a domestic peace and order problem.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Terrorism Council is set to meet in 2 weeks, where, Remulla said, Teves’ designation as a terrorist could be tackled.
Designation carries with it automatic freezing of assets and bank accounts of an individual designated as a terrorist.
But Remulla said they would take a step further by filing a proscription case before the Court of Appeals after Teves' designation.
Proscription, under section 26 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, refers to a court process of declaring an organization, an association or a group of persons as a terrorist group, which, according to Remulla, can be used as basis by other countries to immediately arrest members of proscribed groups.
“I think the proscription process will be the one that will make life more difficult because then that will give the duty of rendition to all member-states of the united nations to arrest any person charged with terrorism to deliver him to trial to the court, to the country where he came from,” he said.
But when asked if proscription could apply to an individual like Teves, Remulla said he would be proscribed as part of a “gambling group” engaged in terrorism.
“It’s a criminal organization, it’s a gambling organization,” he said. “It’s a gambling organization that did…may have done terrorist acts…financed terrorist acts.”
He did not provide additional details.
Topacio called this claim “preposterous.”
“I hope Mr. Remulla can hear himself and realize the preposterousness of a gambling group being engaged in terrorism, assuming without conceding, that Rep. Teves is indeed part of such a group. Since when has sowing terror been beneficial to any gambling enterprise? A big LOL to that,” he said in a statement.
“Any request for proscription will have to undergo judicial scrutiny. We are ready and willing to participate in any judicial proceeding where the rules are clear and the playing field is level,” he added.
Aside from Teves, Remulla said they were looking at filing terrorism charges against 2 more individuals who played a big role in the killings, who also allegedly fled the country.
“People who can be charged as terrorist together with Congressman Teves are those who played roles in the crime which have the effect of creating fear within the populace of Negros Oriental because of what happened,” he said, without revealing their identities.
“These are the people who played roles, important roles in the pursuit of the crime or in the coverup of the crime or in the protection of those people who executed the crime and had a chance to escape because of their help. So we’re looking at that angle of terrorism,” he added.