Reader, Congressman Arnulfo Teves may have good reason to request Congress for a two-month extension of his leave of absence: like continuing threats to his health, nay, life itself. Surely no one would question the solidity of that reason, since Teves is believed by many in Negros Oriental to have figuratively or even literally had a direct hand in the assassination of their Governor, Roel Degamos and eight others. It is one political dynasty against another and naturally (for the Philippines), blood will tell. Who says the “rido” works only in muslim areas?
Teves has long had the reputation of being a spoiled scion of a political dynasty, with his many alleged felonies being swept under the rug through the influence of his family and through the blind eye of the law enforcement agencies in his province, who were loath to gain the ire of political bigwigs. But all good things must come to an end, and Arnulfo finally had to face the music. Congress, itself under the gun, not only turned down the Teves request and ordered him to come home forthwith, but has also threatened him with all sorts of punishment for his “disorderly” (e.g. bringing discredit to Congress) behavior, if he doesn’t do so.
Teves has not come home, in effect defying Congress. And Congress has shown itself to be a toothless tiger, since it has not followed through on its threats. All sound and fury, signifying nothing.
And here, I find myself on Teves’ side. Why, asks Teves, doesn’t Congress allow him to appear before them via Zoom? They have hybrid sessions after all (meetings can be attended either face-to-face or via Zoom). But Congress is not known for either its logic or its intelligence, so that must be the answer.
In short, Reader, Teves has the right of it, insofar as Congress is concerned. His only shortcoming, so far, which has generated the media circus, is that he didn’t come back when his official leave from Congress was up. Nor did he come back when they denied his request for extension. With valid reasons for both.
But, you ask, isn’t Teves avoiding or evading arrest? After all, he has been accused of masterminding the Degamos mini massacre (9 people dead vs Maguindanao)?
That’s just it, Reader. We’ve reached the crux of the matter. The fact is, there has been no warrant of arrest issued against him. Not for the Degamo + 8 murders, nor for any of the many alleged felonies he has committed in his relatively short life. The arrests reported in the media are for the small fish, not this big one.
Justice Secretary Boying Remulla has been talking about using INTERPOL to issue a “Blue Notice” – but that is merely “To locate, identify or obtain information on a person of interest in a criminal investigation”. That’s all Teves is at the moment: a person of interest. That’s a far cry from being a criminal.
So how can the good Secretary say that Teves departure for the US is a sign of guilt? He hasn’t even been charged.
Teves left the country on Feb. 28. Governor Roel Degamo and 8 others were killed on March 4. On March 9 Remulla, in the media, was already announcing that there were masterminds. Today is March 27. No bigwig has been charged yet. Whose fault is that? How can the court issue a warrant without any “probable cause” brought up before it?
Reader, once the arrest warrant is issued, and Teves does not come home (according to Remulla, he is now in Southeast Asia, not in the US anymore) to give himself up, that’s the only time we can say that he is avoiding arrest.
He will then be following in the footsteps of then Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a sitting senator who, in January 2010, left the country days before the DOJ filed charges against him for the murders of publicist Salvador Dacer and driver Emmanuel Corbito (the court issued a warrant of arrest about a month after charges were filed). Lacson stayed away for 14 months, or until after the arrest order was lifted.
There are other examples of well known personalities – like Gringo Honasan (not then a senator), Joel T. Reyes (former Governor of Palawan), and Robin Padilla (now a Senator, but then a 26-year old actor) who also did “a Lacson”. And somehow or other, they all got away with it.
What does that tell us about our leaders and our justice system? And what does that tell us about we the Filipino people, who elect or reelect these personalities?