EDITORIAL — The short reach of the law

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL � The short reach of the law

As relatives and friends marked a year since gunmen massacred 10 people led by Negros Oriental governor Roel Degamo, the accused mastermind remained free, while his henchmen who had previously implicated him had all retracted their statements.

At mid-morning on March 4 last year, in Degamo’s compound in Pamplona that was home to the governor and his wife the town mayor, armed men barged into an aid-giving event and opened fire, leaving Degamo and nine others dead or dying.

From the start, suspicion focused on the Degamos’ political rivals in the province, the Teves clan. Negros Oriental 3rd District congressman Arnolfo Teves Jr., who left for the US purportedly for medical treatment shortly before the massacre, refused to return to the country, ignoring orders from the House of Representatives as he claimed threats to his life. He was suspended for months before the House voted to expel him.

In September, a Manila court issued arrest warrants for Teves and three of his co-defendants in the massacre. Teves faces separate charges for three murders perpetrated between March and June 2019 in Negros Oriental. The assets of Teves, whose clan’s wealth sprung from the sugar industry, have been ordered frozen. His passport has been canceled and the Anti-Terrorism Council has designated him as a terrorist. The International Criminal Police Organization has issued a so-called Red Notice for his arrest in all countries that are members of the Interpol. The international warrant, however, is merely a request for arrest pending extradition or surrender, which local authorities may decide not to enforce.

Despite all the efforts to bring him to justice, Teves remains outside the reach of Philippine law, enjoying freedom in Timor-Leste even if his request for asylum has reportedly been rejected. A recent visit in Manila of Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta did not lead to Teves’ return to the Philippines.

Seeing Teves running free, and even posting videos of himself thumbing his nose at Philippine authorities, can only encourage like-minded folks in this country to consider murder as an attractive tool for eliminating political rivals. The massacre in Pamplona is not the first linked to political feuds in this country. Neither is it the worst; the Maguindanao massacre in November 2009 remains unrivaled in the atrocity scale. And seeing how those behind the Pamplona massacre might get away with murder, it’s guaranteed not to be the last.

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