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TEVES STILL IN U.S.? DEFIES CALL TO RETURN; Ex-governor brother faces raps over seized guns and explosives

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA – Even as  Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. and Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla hinted that there are “strong evidence” against the masterminds behind the March 4 massacre of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo and eight supporters inside his residential compound, Rep. Arnolfo Teves, who is pinpointed by two of the arrested suspects as alleged behind the slaying, charges have been filed against his former governor brother in connection with more firearms and ammunition seized from their sugar mill compound.

The Negros Oriental lawmaker, meanwhile, has refused to return to the Philippines allegedly due to security fears despite assurances from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of his safety when he returns, and is believed to be still in the United States, although his location has been unknown to law enforcers for days now.

Teves sought for 60-day extension of his stay abroad but the request was denied and he was suspended based on the recommendation of the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics. Governor Degamo’s widow and allies called for the expulsion of Rep. Teves.

Charges for possession of illegal firearms and explosives have been filed against former governorr Pryde Henry Teves before the Department of Justice (DOJ), according to the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The criminal complaints filed against the younger Teves last Monday arose from the seizure of a cache of firearms, ammunition and explosive materials unearthed last weekend from his five-hectare property used as a sugar mill in Santa Catalina, Negros Oriental.

Arrested at the scene and subsequently subjected to inquest proceedings were Jeson Timtim, Dionilo Mayagma Jr. and Nigel Electona, chief security officer at the sugar mill compound operated by the HDJ Agri-Venture Corp., in which Teves is reportedly the president.

Col. Jean Fajardo, PNP spokesperson, said Pryde Henry Teves was also charged “since he was the subject of the search warrant.”

Teves denied ownership of the guns and ammunition and also stood firm that he and his lawmaker brother have nothing to do with the killing of Governor Degamo.

 Earlier, Secretary Abalos said they now have a “strong evidence” to identify the mastermind behind the March 4 attack on Governor Degamo.

“Just so, baka mamaya sabihin niya (he might say) everyone is deemed innocent until his guilt is proven but right now this is what I assure him or kung sino man ang mastermind nito (whoever is the mastermind behind this). Malakas na ang aming ebidensya ngayon (We already have a strong evidence),’’ the DILG chief said in a press briefing in Camp Crame, Quezon City, without mentioning names.

Abalos also said most of the suspects who killed Degamo and several innocent individuals are already in the hands of authorities.

Citing that the suspects’ testimonies are not the only important in the case, Abalos noted that authorities now have the “forensics’’ pointing to the firearms, ammunition, explosives and other pieces of evidence seized by law enforcers.

Abalos also stressed that there is no person in his right mind that will collect a huge number of high-powered firearms, saying that the pieces of evidence are “crystal clear”.

Dispelling claims that the evidence might be planted, Abalos showed the videos and photos of a backhoe digging into the compound of former Negros Oriental Governor Pryde Henry Teves where the pieces of evidence were uncovered.

He also insisted that the high-powered firearms were buried deep under the soil for future purposes.

Secretary Remulla said the weapons and other contrabands seized in Negros Oriental over the weekend corroborated the information by witnesses on the murder of Gov. Roel Degamo.

Ten men already under government custody said they were billeted in a facility that was near the area raided by  Criminal Investigation and Detection Group operatives, a sugar mill compound in Sta. Catalina town reportedly owned by former governor Pryde Henry Teves.

“The IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that were found [during the service of arrest warrants] were consistent with the statements made [by the surrenderers],”  Remulla said.

 In another development, a former police officer who is now the security chief of an agribusiness compound in Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental owned by former Governor Pryde Henry Teves has allegedly played a vital role in the assassination of Governor Roel Degamo.

PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo said Nigel Lagunay Electona, a former cop assigned at Dumaguete City Police Office, was arrested during the service of a search warrant at the HDJ Bayawan Agri-ventures Corporation, Tolong compound on March 24.

Pryde is the brother of suspended Negros Oriental third district Representative Arnolfo Teves Jr., who was earlier tagged as one of the alleged masterminds in the killing fo Degamo.

Recovered during the March 24 raid in Pryde’s compound were various high-powered firearms, including a sniper rifle, ammunition and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which were kept underground and cash amounting to almost P18 million.

The operating team unearthed the IEDs using a backhoe and other heavy equipment during the operation.

Fajardo said that on March 26, police raided Electona’s residence in Barangay Villareal in Bayawan City by virtue of a search warrant, which yielded alleged illegal firearms and ammunition, hand grenades, pictures of Degamo and his family, maps, house routes and a photo of the gate of Degamo’s residence.

Fajardo said Electona was arrested due to illegal drugs in 2016 and was dismissed from the police service in 2017.

He then started working with Pryde and later became the chief security officer of the HDJ Tolong compound.

Fajardo said Teves has a lot to explain following the seizure of a large cache of firearms and the arrest of his chief security officer.

Secretary Abalos Jr. said the items that were seized during these operations were “believed to have been used during the planning stage of the murder” of Degamo.

“In light of these recent developments, the Special Task Force Degamo is very confident that we are nearing to the end of unmasking the masterminds behind the shocking and gruesome murder of Governor Degamo and others,” Abalos said.

 The legal counsel of Congressman Teves Jr.  requested the House of Representatives to lift the 60-day suspension against him over his continued absence despite an expired travel authority.

In a letter dated March 24 to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio urged the panel to take into consideration the matters that “may have been overlooked” in its proceedings against Teves, who has been suspended for his continued defiance to the orders of the lower chamber to return to the country and perform his duties as House member. The letter was released to the media on Monday.

Topacio noted that threats to Teves’ life, which were cited as reasons for the lawmaker’s inability to appear before the House, do not always come with “demonstrable proofs.”

Topacio further argued the threat that Teves conceives falls under “unavoidable circumstances,” which prevents his physical presence in the sessions of the House, as well as an exempting circumstance under Section 17, Rule 1x of the House rules.

“It could be by inference from circumstances that are not susceptible to tangible proof, as his in this case. Yet, everyone has a right to be cautious about threats he perceives against his very life,” he said.