SoJ reveals Degamo slay ‘conspiracy’

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla yesterday brushed aside the recantation of three more suspects who initially tagged Representative Arnolfo Teves as the alleged mastermind in the assassination of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo.

The three joined Jhudiel Rivero, alias Osmundo, in retracting the statements they gave to lawyers of the Public Attorney’s Office.

Lawyer Danny Villanueva said Rogelio Antipolo, Rommel Pattaguan, and Dahniel Lora also issued affidavits of recantation claiming their earlier statements were coerced from them by the authorities.

“We are confident of our facts,” Remulla said in response to the suspects’ retraction.

Rivero’s recantation came a week after the National Bureau of Investigation formally filed murder charges against Teves over the assassination of his political rival.

Before the retractions, Remulla called a press conference last week to say that six or seven suspects have stopped cooperating with investigators after “lawyering up.”

“Obviously, some people are interested in the statements they want to give and now they don’t want to cooperate anymore with authorities,” Remulla said then.

“There is a conspiracy, and there are probably people with a lot of money operating within the conspiracy to be able to afford the lawyers they are now getting,” he added.

All the suspects who surrendered or who were arrested were turned over by the police to the NBI. Rivero accused the NBI of holding members of his family, but Remulla flatly denied his claim.

Rivero’s wife, according to the DoJ chief, was put under the Witness Protection Program and has refused to talk to him. All the relatives of the suspects who initially cooperated with the NBI were placed under the WPP.

A petition for habeas corpus was filed Monday before the Manila Regional Trial Court on Monday to force the government to present Rivero’s wife.

Meanwhile, the PNP on Tuesday denied some of its members abused the suspects in the killing of Degamo and nine others in Pamplona, Negros Oriental early March.

PNP public information chief Brig. Gen. Redrigo Maranan told reporters that the PNP “is an organization that recognizes human rights,” one that respects the Anti-Torture Act.

Maranan challenged Rivero to present evidence to back his claim of torture.

“The allegation is not evidence. He has to substantiate his allegations, but one thing is clear, he was arrested and charged and now the case is in court,” the PNP official said.

Following the end of Teves’ 60-day suspension as a lawmaker, the House Ethics Committee was tasked to look into his continuing absence after being tagged in the Degamo killing.

Teves has refused to come home from abroad, saying he fears for his life. His earlier plea for asylum in Timor-Leste had been turned down by that country.

The government wanted to tag Teves as a terrorist so other countries would not harbor him.

Teves’ lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said he had asked to be heard virtually by the committee.

Also yesterday, Teves’ lawyer Ferdinand Topacio asked the DoJ to dismiss the criminal complaint filed against him for the deaths of three persons in 2019.

The motion to dismiss was filed before the DoJ panel conducting a preliminary investigation on the complaint.

The complaint pertained to the death of former Negros Oriental provincial board members Miguel Dungog, Lester Bato, and Pacito Libron.

The motion averred there’s an “utter lack of evidence t support a finding of probable cause.”

It stated that the charges were anchored only on the sworn statement of one Gemuel Hobro, a confessed conspirator in the alleged killings, who tagged Teves as the one who ordered and funded the killings.

“For lack of independent corroborative evidence, Hobro’s testimony is worthless as against his co-accused,” the motion also pointed out. “It is required that the testimony be substantially corroborated by other evidence in all its material points.”

At the DoJ, Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon said the supposed recantations of at least four suspects have not been officially submitted to the justice department.

Fadullon claimed the recantations have been expected following their decision to hire their private counsels.

“It is their right to do so especially now that they have lawyered up,” Fadullon said. “So say that they recanted, assuming that we received the copies already it does not mean that the recantations will prove that the earlier statements they gave are actually untrue,” he added.

However, Fadullon could not say how these recantations would affect the complaint recently filed by the NBI against Teves before the DoJ which is set for preliminary investigation.

“Let us see how it happens when the PI is actually set. If they will submit [their recantations], then we will leave it to the panel how they will evaluate these statements,” Fadullon explained.

The DoJ official also expressed confidence that the prosecution still has strong and sufficient evidence to pin down those responsible for the Degamo killing despite the recantations.

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