Teves in custody, not arrested – lawyer
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Teves in custody, not arrested – lawyer

This photo shows the “re-arrest” of expelled lawmaker Arnolfo Teves Jr. in East Timor.

MANILA, Philippines – Expelled Congressman Arnolfo Teves Jr. from Negros Oriental has not been re-arrested as the Department of Justice (DOJ) claimed, but merely placed under court supervision in East Timor to await his extradition hearings, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said yesterday.

Topacio earlier said Teves, accused of murdering Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo, was released from Becora Prison in Dili.

He said Teves’ release came after a court found his detention “illegal” because the Philippines’ extradition request “was submitted late and in a manner inconsistent with practice and customary international law.”

The Justice Department disputed Topacio’s claims, saying Teves’ release was “part of an ongoing process in the country” and that the former congressman had been rearrested and remanded into custody by the Polícia Nacional of East Timor (PNTL) to face an extradition hearing.

“He was not arrested again). This is not an arrest in the strict sense of the word. He has been placed under the guardianship of the court to ensure that he will participate in (extradition) proceedings,” Topacio told reporters yesterday.

He said Teves’ release coincided with his first extradition hearing.

Topacio said that under Timor-Leste’s extradition laws, the requesting state or court can place a person who is the subject of extradition proceedings under supervision to ensure that he or she is present in the proceedings.

“He has not been arrested again for any crime. He was not re-arrested for the crimes he allegedly committed in the Philippines, but because of the extradition process, which is a separate civil procedure,” he said, noting that Teves is not in prison, but only “in custody.”

Topacio blasted the Justice Department for calling his statements “misleading and highly irresponsible,” saying the court’s ruling clearly stated that Teves had been released from custody.

“It is clear from the dispositive portion of the court’s order to immediately restore Congressman Teves’ liberty that the Philippines’ extradition request contains errors. This concerns the case of habeas corpus (law against illegal detention),” he said.

Topacio said Teves’ release was not procedural as the Justice Department claimed.

He said the Philippine government “really screwed up the extradition request” and should stop “trying to cover it up.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), through the Philippine Embassy in Dili, is working to extradite Teves to Manila. Interpol’s national headquarters in Dili is also taking a different path.

Teves was arrested in March by East Timorese police on a red notice or warrant issued by Interpol, which was prosecuting him over the murder of Degamo and nine others.

In addition to murder, Teves and several other respondents were charged with the deaths of three people in Negros Oriental in 2019.

In August 2023, the Anti-Terrorism Council designated Teves a terrorist after expelling him from the House of Representatives for disorderly conduct and continued absence despite the expiration of his travel authorization.

Teves applied for asylum in East Timor in 2023. According to the DFA, his application was rejected in May of the same year. He asked for reconsideration.

In a statement yesterday, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla insisted that Teves be re-arrested, saying that “this move underlines the strong partnership between our nations and our collective commitment to eradicate impunity, regardless of social status and influence.”

“We assure the public and the international community that all legal processes will be strictly followed and Mr. Teves’ rights will be respected throughout the process,” Remulla said.

“We anticipate Mr. Teves’s speedy return to the Philippines and are committed to ensuring that justice is served. We look forward to seeing Mr. Teves face charges in court rather than elsewhere,” he added.