MANILA — Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla on Friday doubled down on his claim that each of the accused in the killing of Negros Oriental Rep. Roel Degamo was offered P8 million to take back their allegations against suspended Rep. Arnolfo Teves, Jr.
Remulla said it all started 6 days after the arrest on March 31 of Marvin Miranda, accused of being Teves’ co-mastermind, when a lawyer showed up to assist.
He named Miranda’s lawyer, former Department of Justice undersecretary Reynante Orceo, as the one who supposedly orchestrated the recantations.
Orceo, in April, complained of not being allowed to see his client, Miranda, who has been detained at the National Bureau of Investigation.
Remulla had said Miranda initially denied Orceo was his lawyer.
“Noong finally kinuha niya ang abugado na nagpunta roon, nagsimula na yung mga offer na bigyan ng pera itong mga ibang akusado o i-offer sila ng malalaking amount ng pera, amounting to, according to the intel report, 8 million pesos each,” he told reporters.
The Justice chief first made the allegation in an interview with CNN Philippines Friday morning, naming only Orceo.
But by Friday afternoon, he said the lawyers of the other accused were involved.
“Sabi nila there were lawyers. Lawyers were the ones on top of these. And it’s really not just one lawyer ha, these are lawyers. Nababayarang tao kasi to. These are the expensive lawyers probably who are orchestrating the legal defense team for this terrorist group,” he said.
The money, according to Remulla, allegedly came from “a very wealthy, moneyed source who has something at stake in the criminal cases for murder.”
3 LAWYERS REFUTE REMULLA’S CLAIMS
Three lawyers representing the accused all refuted Remulla’s claims.
In a statement, Orceo called Remulla’s allegations as “purely hearsay” and based only on the “information he received.”
“As lawyers, which Sec. Remulla is supposedly aware of, such statement is devoid of evidentiary weight or probative value,” he said.
He reminded Remulla that lawyers are not supposed to impute a crime on a fellow lawyer nor spread false or unverified statements, citing the recently-approved Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability, the code of conduct for Filipino lawyers.
The recantations of the other accused, he said, should be attributed to their respective lawyers since he only represents Miranda.
Lawyer Danny Villanueva, lawyer of 5 of the accused who recanted their statements, said it would have been impossible for lawyers to make the offer while their clients are detained at the National Bureau of Investigation detention facility, given the cramped space and the guarded meetings.
“On my oath, I have nothing to do with the alleged orchestration of recantation,” he told reporters Friday in a videoconference.
“As early as April 18, sila mismo ang nagsabi sa amin na sila ay tatalikod sa mga pinilit na pahayag ng pag-amin sa kanila. Wala po kaming alam dyan at yan po ay kaya naming tindigan at kaya naming humarap kay Sec. Remulla,” he said.
Another lawyer, Jord Valention, who represents the 5 remaining accused, also issued a denial.
“I did not do that, and I will never do such a thing,” he said.
“My clients know nothing of what the good Secretary is saying . My clients are constrained to recant or disown the statements, for they were taken by violence, threat and intimidation, as well as in violation of their constitutional rights,” he added.
In separate affidavits, the 10 accused claimed they were tortured while under the custody of authorities.
Osmundo Rivero claimed Negros Police used plastic to suffocate him while the other accused claimed they were subjected to pressure, physical and mental torture while at the hands of the NBI.
Miranda, the 11th accused, never issued any statement from the very beginning.
But Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos said he does not believe the torture allegations.
“As far as the PNP is concerned, tinatanong ko sila, talagang ginawa nila ito in accordance with law,” he said in an ambush interview.
“Talagang itong mga taong ito ang gumawa ang nasa video na ito and I think people will judge here. Now would it stand in court, yan ang isang katanungan, yun nga ang sinabi sa akin ni SOJ, he assured me it will definitely stand in court,” he added.
Remulla, on Thursday, said they will investigate the torture claims but expressed his doubt over the allegations.
Some of the accused have filed petitions for habeas corpus before a Manila court to question the validity of their arrest and continued detention.
Rivero, for his part, filed a similar petition to ask for the release of his wife, son and stepson, who were supposedly taken into custody by authorities.
But Remulla warned Rivero’s lawyer, Villanueva, that the DOJ will report him to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for initially announcing that he and his client will file the habeas corpus petition, which, in the end, Villanueva supposedly did not sign.
“Because the lawyer knew the family had already signed off from the WPP (Witness Protection Program) but still filed it to waste the time of the court and DOJ. That’s why we are reporting that person to the IBP for whatever purpose it may serve so that this pattern of behavior will not be repeated, wasting the time of the court,” he explained.
Despite the recantations, Remulla maintained Friday the government still has a strong case against the accused over the March 4 killing of the slain governor.
Meanwhile, the alleged main mastermind, Teves, is still in Timor-Leste, according to the Justice Secretary.
He disclosed that Teves arrived with 12 other companions in Timor-Leste on board a private jet from Singapore.
“Lifestyle of the rich and famous. Private plane? 13 people? Not cheap,” he said.
Teves, who was suspended anew by the House of Representatives for another 60 days due to his continued absence, is appealing Timor-Leste’s denial of his asylum application.