MANILA (UPDATED) - Voting 285-0-1, the House of Representatives has suspended Negros Oriental 3rd District Rep. Arnolfo Teves, Jr. for another 60 days and stripped him off all his committee memberships in the chamber.
Teves is a Vice Chairperson of the Committee on Games and Amusements and a member of the Committees on Legislative Franchises and Nuclear Energy.
These were the recommendations of the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, which were adopted by the chamber before adjourning the 1st Regular session of the 19th Congress.
"We all know that our colleague has been imposed by this August body the penalty of a 60-day suspension last 22 March 2023 for disorderly behavior. After service of the penalty, our colleague Rep. A. Teves Jr. remains abroad, fails to perform his duties and responsibilities as Member of the House of Representatives, and commits acts detrimental to the House of Representatives and its Members. Hence, the Committee, for the second time around, exercised its motu proprio authority to assume jurisdiction over his continuous unauthorized absences in the House of Representatives," COOP NATCCO Party List Rep. Felimon Espares, Committee Chairman, said in his sponsorship speech.
"As a public officer, Rep. A. Teves is held to higher ethical standards because public office is a public trust. It is crucial for a public official to uphold the public trust to remain in public service. The acts of Rep. Teves, Jr. cast serious doubts upon his ability to maintain that trust and perform his duties with integrity and uprightness expected of a public official," Espares said.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the Committee on Ethics and Privileges hereby find that the unauthorized absences of Rep. A. Teves, Jr., aggravated by his act of seeking political asylum in Timor-Leste, resulted in his failure to perform his duties as House Member under Section 7, Rule Il, and violated the Code of Conduct, as set forth in Section 142 (a) and (b), Rule XX of the Rules of the House of Representatives. His actions and all its consequences have compromised the integrity of the House of Representatives and constitute disorderly behavior warranting disciplinary action," Espares also said.
The panel cited Teves' continued unauthorized absences which was aggravated by his failed bid to get political asylum from Timor Leste which the panel held resulted in the lawmaker's failure to perform his duties.
The panel specifically cited that Teves violated Section 7, Rule I of the Rules of the House of Representatives as well as the Code of Conduct in Rule XX Sections 142 A and B of the same rules.
"After the conduct of hearings and the consideration of the position of Rep. A. Teves, Jr. as presented in his letters to the Committee, the Committee found that the unauthorized absences of Rep. A. Teves, Jr., aggravated by his act of seeking political asylum in Timor-Leste, resulted in his failure to perform his duties as House Member under Section 7, Rule Il, and violated the Code of Conduct, as set forth in Section 142 (a) and (b), Rule XX of the Rules of the House of Representatives. His actions and all its consequences have compromised the integrity of the House of Representatives and constitute disorderly behavior warranting disciplinary action," the Committee report said.
"It is important to emphasize that the Committee has exercised prudence and a high degree of restraint in recommending sanctions against Rep. A. Teves. Recognizing the significance of fair treatment and due process, and in due deference to the people of the Third District of Negros Oriental, the Committee has carefully considered the circumstances surrounding Rep. A. Teves, Jr.'s actions and has not rushed to judgment or resorted to extreme measures in response to his transgressions. Instead, it has taken a measured approach, taking into account the gravity and frequency of Rep. A. Teves Jr.'s misconduct," the report added.
The committee report explained that the sixty (60) day suspension is for violation of Sections 142 (a) and (b) of the Rules of the House of Representatives and for disorderly behavior. Consequently, all his rights and privileges as a Member of the House of Representatives covering the said period are likewise suspended.
The panel also recommended the forfeiture of all his Committee memberships.
The House is constitutionally empowered to discipline members, but a penalty of expulsion or suspension would need the vote of 2/3 of all members.
Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio "Dong" Gonzales, Jr. and the Rizal 1st District Rep. Michael John Duavit both appealed to their colleague to come home, with Duavit even saying that his vote to suspend Teves is a lifeline to their colleague.
Duavit and Teves are party mates in the Nationalist Peoples Coalition.
"Maybe others here are not familiar with the concept of political asylum but basically the United Nations and all over the world by definition, when you apply for refugee status, when you for political asylum, you are making the accusation that your country does, a. Not have the capability to offer protection for those persecuted. Or that your own country is unwilling to provide protection for the persecuted," Duavit said.
"But worst of all it also implies, may also imply that your very own country, your very own government is perpetrator of such persecution. These are accusations that are so grave that in the over the 100 years of our republic's existence, from the 1st congress to today's congress, the possibility of such a thing even happening has never been considered," Duavit also said.
"I'd like to take this time, Mr Speaker, to make a plea to our colleague. Rep. Arnie Teves, perhaps he was misadvised, perhaps he did not see by applying in Timor Leste that this was the accusation that he has brought on our state. I would to make a plea to our colleague. Please heed our call. His insistence not to show himself to us, these accusations he has made, the plea is Cong. Arnie, please think of this, not as an attack on you but please look at it as a lifeline," Duavit added.
"This can be cured if you did not mean to besmirch our state, if you did not mean to do any harm to our house all of this can be cured by just coming home. We are asking you to have trust and faith in us your peers," Duavit explained.
Duavit recalled that lawmakers tagged in the 2007 Batasan bombing came to work even if they were identified as suspects.
"In 2007, right by the entrance of the North Wing, South Wing, we lost one of our members to a bomb blast a few weeks later, the list of suspects were published. In fairness to all of those in the list that were published that were members of this House, they continue to work. They had faith in our institution. They had faith that we would not forget that we must presume innocence until final judgment. Please Cong. Arnie, your brother was a victim of that blast. I sat with him 4 years, his hands disfigured, covered in gauze," Duavit said.
"If Mr. Speaker, hell is never being able to be with our creator, hell on earth is being separated from all of those we love. Cong. Arnie, take the life line, please come home," Duavit also said.
"Cong. Arnie, uwi ka na," Gonzales, said.
Speaker Martin Romualdez has been designated as legislative caretaker of the district from May 31 to July 30, 2023 which is the period of Teves' suspension.