Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla announced last week that the process to designate rogue Negros Oriental 3rd district Rep. Arnie Teves as a terrorist, under the Anti-Terror Law of 2020, had begun.
One of the suspected masterminds of the Pamplona Massacre, Teves has been out of the country since early March and has refused to return to the country despite having an expired travel authority. The lawmaker’s defiance to return to the Philippines is allegedly due to threats to his life from “high-ranking officials” in government.
The attack in Pamplona town last March killed nine people, including incumbent Governor Roel Degamo, a fierce political rival of the Teves political dynasty of Negros Oriental.
Members of the public who were simply attending a constituent clinic by the late governor were also killed in the attack, including a father who was there to seek financial help from the governor to bury a daughter he just lost to dengue fever.
Instead they were shot dead by assassins in full combat regalia whose main target was Degamo – becoming mere collateral damage in a war between two political dynasts of the province. The brutality of the attack made the Pamplona Massacre the nationwide focus for the next month, even featuring on international news.
If the Teves family are indeed the masterminds of the attack, their crime warrant the harshest penalties under the law. Abiding by the concept of due process, a formal court process need to be conducted before the Teveses are meted out punishment – but achieving this has been hindered by Arnie Teves’ refusal to return to the country.
Hence why invoking the Anti-Terror Law (ATL) to bring the perpetrators to justice makes sense. The controversial law, which faced strong opposition when it was being debated in Congress (including by this blog), is draconian and inflicts harsh sanctions against individuals or groups branded as “terrorists” by the state, even before a case has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.
Shortly after its passage into law, the ATL was used to target activists and political dissidents under the regime of President Rodrigo Duterte. Human rights activists, unionists, and even journalists were regularly arrested or harassed by state forces under the suspicion of being “terrorists” or aiding those who were.
The ATL allows Philippine authorities to act swiftly and strongly against persons or groups who the state considers as “terrorists”. While it has been abused in the examples mentioned above, there is scope to apply the law to powerful persons – like the Teves political dynasty.
Under the ATL, terrorism is defined as “any act committed by any person in or outside the Philippines” that “causes death or serious bodily injury to any person” or “endangers a person’s life” in order to “create a serious risk to public safety or to cause widespread fear among the populace.” Using this definition, there is a strong case to make that the perpetrators of the Pamplona Massacre are guilty of sowing terrorism.
Governor Degamo was the highest elected official in the province of Negros Oriental and was guarded by a security detail composed of Philippine police escorts, in addition to his own private bodyguards. Despite that, Degamo was still assassinated inside his own residence.
If a person with his stature and power can be terrorised in his own home, how much more ordinary Filipinos who do not enjoy the same security detail or wield such political power as a governor? In that case, the Pamplona Massacre sowed fear and terror among the populace.
The prime suspects, the Teves family, have also shown they have the means to sow terror too. Subsequent raids conducted by authorities on properties the family own yielded large caches of firearms and ammunition.
Authorities seized dozens of firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and Php18 million in cash from a raid on a Teves sugar mill. A separate search in the same mill again yielded more weapons and ammunition, as well as explosives.
The Department of Justice also bared that a helicopter owned by Arnie Teves was used to transport the gunmen out of Negros Oriental after the shooting. With an abundant supply of weapons and ammunition, as well as the transport capability, the Teves family certainly have the logistics needed to carry out such an attack.
This is in addition to the fact that the assailants who perpetrated the massacre were all former military personnel. Being able to employ individuals who have combat training and experience, as well as access to high-caliber weapons and a helicopter, definitely sounds like a family who are more than capable of unleashing havoc on society.
It is for these reasons that designating Arnie Teves, and possibly even more members of his family and associates who have aided his alleged crimes, as terrorists makes perfect sense.
To proscribe a terrorist tag on Teves will also help force his return to the country. The Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) may freeze the assets of any person designated as a “terrorist” under the ATL; the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) will also be able to monitor the person’s finances, ensuring they do not have access to funds.
This could make life very difficult for Congressman Teves, who is believed to be hiding overseas, and would be persuasive in getting him to return home.
Being designated as a terrorist also compels member states of the United Nations (UN) to surrender Teves as a fugitive under the duty of rendition. The rogue congressman will be enrolled in the UN’s list of terrorists, and become a wanted man globally.
It is still unconfirmed if Teves is indeed the mastermind behind the Pamplona Massacre, due process is owed to him and a proper investigation should take place. However, we cannot begin to conduct due process unless the congressman returns to the Philippines first.
Facilitating his return using the ATL is seen as the most powerful tool to achieve that for now. Historically, the Government has weaponised this law to go after activists and conscientious objectors of the state which was wrong.
They now have a good opportunity to put the ATL to good use by bringing Arnie Teves home and taking a step closer to resolve the atrocity that is the Pamplona Massacre.